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Please note: this event has passed

A free lecture series hosted by the School of Politics and Economics which offers students a unique insight into the historical, cultural and political relationship between the UK and France is set to return.

Led by Captain Julien Saint-Quentin, an expert in Franco-British relations, the series will once again cover an array of topics that underpin the relationship between the two European states, with a focus on economics, strategy, history and law.

The series made its debut in 2023 and proved so popular that it will run once again in 2024.

Julien is a former advisor to the First Sea Lord at the Ministry of Defence and Naval Attaché to the French Embassy in London. He served for more than 20 years in the Marine Nationale (French navy) and has also served as an exchange officer with the Royal Navy.

The eight-part series, entitled Franco-British Relations, starts on 25 January and will run on Thursday evenings. The dates are as follows:

  • 25/01/2024
  • 01/02/2024
  • 08/02/2024
  • 15/02/2024
  • 07/03/2024
  • 14/03/2024
  • 21/03/2024
  • 28/03/2024

The event is open to all students at King's College London.


The programme

History of the relationship

1.1 A thousand-year-old rivalry that shaped the world

From the Hundred Years' War to the Napoleonic Wars, through alliances, counter-alliances and colonisation, it can be argued that our nation-states were born out of their rivalry and through it built a global footprint and influence that persists today.

1.2 An unbreakable alliance, from the battle of Navarino to Libya

Barely a few years after the Battle of Waterloo, the arch-rivals found themselves on the same side for the first time. Forged in the trenches of the First World War, this fraternity of arms has never wavered since whenever it really mattered, despite the weight of history and a certain penchant for bickering.

The economy of the relationship

2.1. Agriculture, trade and the role of the state: understanding a different relationship to risk and investment

Why do the French borrow at fixed rates? Why do the British have leaseholds and freeholds? The nation of shopkeepers and the breadbasket of Europe have, through history, geography and religion, built a different relationship to money, which still endures today through various aspects of our respective economies, however close their fundamentals appear to be.

2.2. The post-war period: the Glorious Thirty, the sick man of Europe and European construction, the underlying principles of the current situation

After the Suez crisis, France chose Europe and the United Kingdom the US. From the Trente Glorieuses to the Thatcherian revolution, the economic cycles have overlapped without ever aligning. The European Union, a lever of power and prestige for one, a utilitarian lifeline at the time for the other: some clues to understanding the aftermath of the relationship after the 2016 referendum.

Legal aspects of the relationship

3.1 Common law and Napoleonic law: opposing, founding and complementary systems

Land and sea, customary tradition versus written law, predictability versus innovation, our legal systems are presented as absolute opposites. Yet, together, they shape international law, from the Geneva Conventions to international criminal justice, from the law of the sea to diplomatic privileges

3.2. Treaties, alliances and values: almost total alignment, global influence, unique impact

Two nuclear powers, two permanent members of the UN Security Council, two cultural powers with global reach: how two medium-sized powers have become champions of a rules-based order.

The strategic relationship

4.1 Converging interests, similar political mechanisms for the use of force

The weight of history and geography is such that today, France and the UK are constantly involved in crises around the world. With the Constitution of the Fifth Republic and the Royal Prerogative, both countries are uniquely equipped to respond, and it is most often inevitable that they will respond together, making interoperability an imperative.

4.2 Tensions between European strategic autonomy, the 'special relationship' and the Commonwealth

Despite this, the tensions between the Special Relationship and the desire for European strategic autonomy are still very much present. With defence industries often in competition, total alignment remains illusory. It is therefore essential to build a realistic relationship, based on common interests where they exist.

*all lectures are subject to change

Guest speakers such as French and British Parliamentarians and experts will support Julien in certain lectures.

Those attending 6 or more of these lectures will receive a certificate of attendance.


Meet the speaker

Tell us about yourself…

I am a former a naval officer. I joined the French Navy at 19. I have spent the greater part of my career at sea, commanding ships, visiting countries, and apprehending criminals.

How did you get this passion for the Franco-British relationship?

I spent nine years in the UK. The first three years were as an exchange officer on board a Royal Navy destroyer, HMS Edinburgh, where I even picked up a Scottish accent; then as a strategy and policy advisor to the First Sea Lord at the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall; and finally, in my current position, as the Naval Attaché to the French Embassy in London.

When a Frenchman spends nine years in the United Kingdom, and is at least a little curious, he asks himself: why do they drive on the left?

So, these comparisons, I made them first in my field, the maritime and strategic field. But when you talk about the military, you get interested in the budget, you get interested in the voting system, you get interested in constitutional practice. And when you are invited by your British colleagues to a Trafalgar dinner, you have to be interested in history too!

But how did you go from an 'amateur' interest to a systematic and structured study of the differences between France and the UK?

In 2013-2015, I had the chance to read an LLM in public international law. And there, in all subjects, it's like a tug-of-war between French and British legal culture. It forced me to go into the details of each legal system, each state, each practice. And, in studying these subjects, I realised to what extent this permanent tension between the French and British models, between civil law and common law, had been structuring far beyond our two countries.

And in 2017, I had the honour of being selected as one of the first cohort of Franco-British Young Leaders, which gave me the privilege of rubbing shoulders with people whose profession it was, in many fields of activity, and of opening up this natural interest to other subjects.

What is your teaching experience?

I have always enjoyed teaching. I got that taste through debating, at the Ecole de Guerre, in Paris, in 2010. I have started to be regularly invited to speak at various universities in Paris, usually in law of the sea or naval strategy, which are my original areas of expertise.

Since 2019, I have been teaching Defence to Politics graduates at Sciences Po in Paris. I believe that students appreciate interacting with practitioners and to put their theoretical knowledge in perspective with real-life experiences.

What does this series consist of?

The central tenet of this series is to teach students to distinguish between the genuine differences between France and the UK - and there are many - and the sometimes widespread preconceptions that do not match reality.

I will approach this theme through four main areas: History, economics, law and strategy.

I will try to show how two countries so close to each other have developed such different systems, and yet how much this competition, this millennial tension, has been so fruitful, not only for our two countries but for a much broader scale.

Why should students choose your course?

For at least three reasons:

  1. Cultural intelligence. Developing the ability to understand and compare two countries, two cultures, two systems, is an essential asset in many professions, from politics to investment banking.
  2. Geography. After Brexit, we remain extremely close neighbours, with very strong economic and strategic links, which we must redefine outside the framework of the European Union.
  3. The current strategic context. France and the United Kingdom are two permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, two nuclear powers, the two largest military powers on the European continent. We need to understand the values that unite them and the interests that sometimes separate them.

Event details

South, Room 2.03
Bush House
Strand campus, 30 Aldwych, London, WC2B 4BG