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“A reform that denies our expertise”

Many French diplomats called to strike on Thursday to protest against the reform of the senior civil service. An unprecedented movement which is also the sign of a growing disarray for several years at the Quai d’Orsay.

The malaise is deep and resembles an existential crisis. Rare fact at the Quai d’Orsay, six unions and a group of 500 young diplomats from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called for a strike on Thursday June 2 to protest against the reform of the senior civil service which, in the long term, will lead to the disappearance of the two historical bodies of French diplomacy: that of Minister Plenipotentiary (ambassador) and that of Foreign Affairs Advisor.

The discontent has been simmering for months, but erupted after the publication in the Official Journal in April, between the two rounds of the presidential election, of the decree of application, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, of the reform.

Desired by President Emmanuel Macron, this creates a new body of State administrators and provides that senior civil servants will no longer be attached to a specific administration: on the contrary, they will be invited to change it regularly throughout of their career.

>> To read also: “French diplomacy: ‘The Quai d’Orsay has a tendency to operate in a vacuum'”

Diplomats see it as “the end of professional diplomacy” in France, the third international network behind the United States and China. In addition, the still vague contours of the reform sometimes do not allow all the answers to be given to worried diplomats, who want guarantees.

“This reform is a mistake because it denies our expertise,” said a diplomat stationed in Paris who requested anonymity because subject to the duty of reserve. “Our profession is learned over time and our experiences in the field, she continues. My skill is first of all a detailed knowledge of a geographical area and the foreign languages ​​that I speak. I will not become a prefect. We are not interchangeable.”

“Diplomacy is not an art of improvisation, but a job for professionals”

A sign that something usual is happening in this house, which is not used to social movements – this is only the second strike in the history of the Quai d’Orsay, the first having taken place in 2003 –, many diplomats announced, with the hashtag #diplo2metier on Twitter, their intention to participate in the strike or expressed their solidarity with the strikers. Starting from the base, the movement is gradually gaining the hierarchy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and now attracts the support of many senior officials and ambassadors.

“Dialogue with nearly 200 States in their languages, enabling, preserving peace: diplomacy is not an art of improvisation, but a job for professionals”, writes on the social network Anne Guéguen, director of North Africa and Middle East at the Quai d’Orsay.

“On June 2, I will strike. Diplomacy brings together a range of professions which all have in common that they are specific and acquired over a long period of time. It is a vocation”, underlines Philippe Bertoux, Director of Strategic Affairs , Security and Disarmament at the Ministry.

“I will be on strike on June 2 to protest against the reform of the diplomatic corps and the continuous reduction of the means of our diplomacy. The return of the war in Europe shows the importance of a strong French diplomacy at the service of French and European interests. “, estimates Claire Le Flécher, ambassador of France in Kuwait.

“Emmanuel Macron’s goal is to create more mobility between administrations. In itself, this is a principle of common sense, but the problem is that it is based on a generalist administration whereas for certain professions, we need specialists. Being a diplomat is not a job that you do like that without having thought about its implications, whether in terms of personal life or in terms of training”, analyzes Christian Lequesne, professor at Sciences Po Paris, specialist in French foreign policy and author of “Ethnographie du Quai d’Orsay” (CNRS Éditions, 2017).

“We have been witnessing for years an unraveling of this ministry”

Beyond the current reform of the senior civil service and the fear of “appointments of convenience”, this strike movement testifies to a deeper malaise. In a column published in the daily Le Monde on May 25, the collective of 500 young diplomats is concerned in particular about a “dizzying reduction in resources” (50% reduction in the workforce in 30 years) and “decades of marginalization of the role of the ministry within the State”.

“We have been witnessing for years an unraveling of this ministry, by a reduction in resources, but also because certain aspects of our action are now attributed to others”, explains the diplomat who requested anonymity quoted above. “It’s all the more frustrating that we do this job at the cost of many sacrifices, personal she added. We work 14 hours a day and the consequences on our private life, when we have a family and we has to go abroad, are sometimes difficult to manage. The general public like the ambassador who spends his time hosting social events, but our job is not that at all.”

“It’s true that society remains very much in the clichés of the diplomat ‘Ferrero Rocher’. The French do not realize that it is a job where you have to manage crises and where civil servants, who are extremely committed, do not There is therefore a feeling of injustice with regard to the perception that one may have of their profession”, observes Christian Lequesne.

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The other point raised by the testimonies collected concerns the definition of the diplomat’s mission. Many other players are now involved in diplomacy, including the Ministry of the Economy for trade and financial negotiations, the Ministry of Defense with military diplomats specializing in negotiation, the French Development Agency (AFD) for the development aid provided by France throughout the world.

“These developments participate in a form of existential questioning on the part of diplomats, but it is a question that we find in quite a few countries, such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Brazil, and which is linked to the evolution of international relations and the multiplication of actors in diplomacy over the past twenty years”, analyzes Christian Lequesne, for whom a reflection on the role of the diplomat in 2022 must be carried out.

The ministry, where Catherine Colonna, a career diplomat whose appointment was interpreted as a “message” to the staff, has just arrived, claims to have “established a quality social dialogue” with all the trade unions.

The strike is in any case likely to be followed with attention by the minister, but also at the Élysée. Angry diplomats hope to gather widely enough to contradict Emmanuel Macron to review his copy.


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