Angry French diplomats drop discretion to strike over reform

Jun 1, 2022, 11:34 AM | Updated: Jun 2, 2022, 3:43 pm
Diplomats hold a banner reading "Professional diplomats on strike" during a protest near the French...

Diplomats hold a banner reading "Professional diplomats on strike" during a protest near the French Foreign Ministry Thursday, June 2, 2022 in Paris. Members of the French diplomatic corps are dropping their traditional reserve to go on a rare strike, angered by a planned reform they worry will hurt their careers and France's standing in the world. (AP Photo/Nicolas Garriga)

(AP Photo/Nicolas Garriga)

PARIS (AP) — Members of the French diplomatic corps dropped their traditional reserve on Thursday to go on a rare strike, angered by a planned reform they worry will hurt their careers and France’s standing in the world. It was the second such strike in nearly 20 years.

About 100 diplomats dropped the veil of invisibility that often defines their work to demonstrate in full view of the imposing Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, the home base for the foreign service. In overseas posts, ranging from Tokyo to the Middle East and Washington, numerous diplomats, including some ambassadors, honored the day-long strike.

They want President Emmanuel Macron to scrap a plan to merge career diplomats with a larger body of civil servants, starting in January, or at least hold a dialogue.

The plan, announced by Macron in an April decree, will reportedly affect about 800 diplomats. Opponents claim that’s just the beginning.

“We risk the disappearance of our professional diplomacy,” a group of 500 diplomats, wrote in a commentary published last week in Le Monde newspaper. “Today, (diplomatic) agents … are convinced it is the very existence of the ministry that is now being put into question.”

The planned change comes amid the war in Ukraine and complex negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, and while France holds the European Union’s rotating presidency.

Newly-appointed Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, herself a career diplomat, has not commented. However, she will meet Tuesday with unions and representatives of the protest movement for an initial “listening” session, the ministry said.

Demonstrators held a large banner reading “Professional Diplomats on Strike” during the protest across from the ministry, known as the Quai d’Orsay for its location by the River Seine.

“To say that diplomacy is in danger, that word may be too strong,” said Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, a former ambassador to China, Japan and Britain, who was taking part in the public protest near the ministry. But, he added, “diplomacy will be weakened,” at a time when those skills are especially needed.

“To become an ambassador, before getting to the top of the ladder, it is necessary to actually tick some boxes,” said another demonstrating diplomat, identifying himself only as Benjamin. “And this reform supports the idea that there is no need for such skills.” Like others not yet at the top rung, he declined to give his full name.

The government reform is meant to modernize and diversify France’s diplomatic corps, created in the 16th century, and to bring down the walls of what some in the government see as an elite institution turned in on itself.

It will put diplomats into a large pool from all branches of public service, encouraging switches to other ministries and forcing personnel to compete with outsiders for prized diplomatic posts.

Diplomats contend their job requires specialization and expertise acquired over years in posts around the world — and has no room for amateurs.

“Today, I am on strike,” Deputy Ambassador to the United States Aurelie Bonal tweeted. “Diplomats negotiate, talk, compromise. They generally do not go on strike.”

Bonal raised yet another worry that protesting diplomats contend the change could generate: cronyism. “Without a diplomatic corps, it will be much easier for the (government) to appoint friends at all levels of diplomatic jobs,” she tweeted.

Dominique de Villepin, a former prime minister and foreign minister known for an eloquent 2003 speech at the United Nations in which he declared French opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, labeled the pending reform in a tweet last month “A historic fault.”

For France, the loss of diplomats’ separate status in the civil service means “a loss of independence, a loss of competence, a loss of memory that will weigh heavily on the years ahead,” Villepin tweeted.

Even before Macron’s decree, frustration had festered in the Foreign Ministry’s halls over cuts in funding, personnel and outsourcing. The group commentary in Le Monde deplored “decades of marginalization of the ministry’s role within the (French) state” as well as “a vertiginous reduction” in personnel — down by 30% in 10 years, the diplomats claim. Funding, they said, is but 0.7% of the state budget.

The Twitter hashtag, #diplo2metier, shows a number of ambassadors around the world joining in or supporting Thursday’s strike.

“I will be on strike … to protest the reform of the diplomatic corps and the continued reduction of means for our diplomacy,” French Ambassador to Kuwait Claire Le Flecher tweeted on her personal account.

Bonal, the deputy ambassador to the United States, said the job of diplomat is more than “gorging on Ferreros in touristic countries. The truth is we also visit morgues & jails; we work very late hours, not always in safe countries,” she tweeted. “It’s a vocation, not a 3-year experience.”

Bonal said she was among those who went on the first such strike in 2003, a protest over budget cuts.


Nicolas Garriga in Paris contributed.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Starbucks leader grilled by Senate over anti-union actions

Longtime Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz faced sharp questioning Wednesday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee
1 day ago
FILE - The overdose-reversal drug Narcan is displayed during training for employees of the Public H...
Associated Press

FDA approves over-the-counter Narcan; here’s what it means

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved selling naloxone without a prescription, the first over-the-counter opioid treatment.
1 day ago
FILE - A Seattle police officer walks past tents used by people experiencing homelessness, March 11...
Associated Press

Seattle, feds seek to end most oversight of city’s police

  SEATTLE (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department and Seattle officials asked a judge Tuesday to end most federal oversight of the city’s police department, saying its sustained, decade-long reform efforts are a model for other cities whose law enforcement agencies face federal civil rights investigations. Seattle has overhauled virtually all aspects of its police […]
2 days ago
Associated Press

Washington moves to end child sex abuse lawsuit time limits

People who were sexually abused as children in Washington state may soon be able to bring lawsuits against the state, schools or other institutions for failing to stop the abuse, no matter when it happened.
2 days ago
Three children and three adults were killed in a shooting at a private Christian grade school in Na...
Associated Press

Nashville shooter who killed 6 drew maps, surveilled school

Three children were killed in a shooting at a private Christian grade school in Nashville on Monday, hospital officials said.
3 days ago
(Photo from KIRO 7)...
Associated Press

Police: passenger pulled jet’s emergency slide before LAX to SEA flight

A passenger on a Delta Air Lines flight out of Los Angeles International Airport was detained for triggering the plane’s emergency slide prior to takeoff, authorities said.
3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Compassion International...

Brock Huard and Friends Rally Around The Fight for First Campaign

Professional athletes are teaming up to prevent infant mortality and empower women at risk in communities facing severe poverty.
Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.
SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!
safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Angry French diplomats drop discretion to strike over reform