Clara Marina O'Donnell

Obituary 1983-2014

On January 16th we lost our dear friend and colleague, Clara Marina O'Donnell, at the age of 30. She came to the CER as a defence analyst in 2007, having previously worked at NATO and at Chatham House. Brought up in Brussels, with Spanish and Anglo-Irish parents, Clara was a true European. She spoke Dutch, French, Italian and Spanish, as well as English.

She thought it obvious that European countries could achieve more by working together, and applied that principle with rigour to the field of EU defence co-operation. She advocated not only the pooling and sharing of defence capabilities, but also the forging of a single market for defence equipment. She refused to be downcast that the EU had achieved less in defence than some had expected; she saw the glass as half full, pointing to the many examples of progress. Thus in 'The trials and tribulations of European defence co-operation', a fine paper that we published in July 2013, Clara analysed the obstacles that prevent EU governments working together; but she also highlighted cases of successful collaboration, including the current Franco-British arrangements, as well as suggesting other areas where co-operation would makes sense, such as a European drone programme.

In her early years at the CER, Clara travelled extensively in the Middle East, becoming a strong advocate of rights for Palestinians. In one notable paper, 'The EU, Israel and Hamas', published in April 2008, Clara argued that there could never be peace in the Middle East unless Hamas was brought into the negotiations. She also called for the EU to play a bigger role, both in persuading Hamas to renounce violence and accept a two-state solution, and in urging the US and Israel to talk to Hamas.

In addition to the many thoughtful and original pieces that she wrote for the CER, she contributed articles and papers to other journals and think-tanks, such as International Affairs, Europe's World, Jane's Defence Weekly, European Voice, the EU Institute for Security Studies and the Brookings Institution. Clara also proved to be a skilful editor: she was particularly good at spotting how the structure of her colleagues’ pieces could be improved. She was enthusiastic about working with people in other think-tanks: in recent years she helped to manage the 'FR-UK Defence Forum', a venture that we, two French think-tanks (IFRI and the FRS) and two British think-tanks (RUSI and Chatham House) established to work on Franco-British defence co-operation. She was also active in Young Professionals in Foreign Policy.

Clara was ambitious, without having sharp elbows. In the defence world, Washington DC is the place to be, and Clara was keen to spend some time there. She got her chance in the summer of 2011, when she won a Fulbright fellowship. She moved to Washington, where our friends at the Brookings Institution's Centre on the United States and Europe hosted Clara. She stayed on in Washington when the fellowship ended, as the CER's US representative and as a senior research fellow. Clara proved a great hit in the US, dazzling people with her knowledge, public-speaking skills and charm.

Last August she was diagnosed with an incurable illness, and she moved back to London. She was adamant that she wanted to keep on working. During Clara's final months we learned new things about her, notably her astonishing bravery. She never complained about her predicament or felt sorry for herself. Her philosophical approach was extraordinary for such a young woman. She was keen to lead as normal a life as possible, given the constraints of her health, and went on working until Christmas. We will never forget Clara's passionate belief in the European cause, sharp intelligence, cheerfulness, strength of character, determination and courage. Our thoughts are with Clara's parents, her two brothers and her many friends.

Charles Grant

Remembrances of Clara Marina O'Donnell: A great and untimely loss
Obituary by Fiona Hill, Brookings, 21 January 2014 


Clara Marina O'Donnell joined the Centre for European Reform in 2007, as a research fellow on EU foreign policy and defence.

She focused on European defence co-operation, defence industrial matters and the Middle East. In addition to publishing policy reports, she wrote articles in peer-reviewed journals, including International Affairs, and opinions pieces in newspapers, including European Voice and Jane’s defence weekly. She spoke at international conferences and provides commentary to the media, including BBC’s Newsnight, The Financial Times, The New York Times and El País.

In 2011-12, she was a Fulbright Schuman scholar. Before joining the CER, she worked for NATO at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Belgium and as a researcher for Chatham House on Europe. She also had various placements within EU institutions. She had an MPhil in International Relations from the University of Cambridge and a BA in European Studies from King's College London. She also studied at Sciences-Po Paris.

She was a board member of the Washington European Society and a member of the UK Advisory Council of the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. She was previously on the steering group for the Under 35s Forum at Chatham House.