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French diplomats strike: continuity and change between Richelieu and Macron

In France, a strike is not news. Diplomats going on strike? Now that is news. French diplomats’ strike against the Quai d’ Orsay reform signals existential concerns about diplomacy in France and beyond. Macron’s diplomatic reform focuses on ending the exclusivity of the diplomatic profession in government.

In time, all countries followed the French diplomatic invention by establishing foreign ministries. Their organogram is similar to Richelieu’s, including archive, documentation, multilateral, protocol, and protocol departments.

 

Cardinal Richelieu

Cardinal Richelieu

President Macron

President Macron

 

Ever since 1626, diplomacy has been adapting to all technological inventions; the telephone, the radio, television, and more recently, the internet.

How will this interplay between continuity and change work today as French diplomats are on strike in the face of President Macron’s Reform of Diplomatic Service?

Continuity

French diplomats are right when they say diplomacy is not just an administrative job. It is a complex and particular profession, as Ivo Andric (diplomat, Nobel Prize laureate in literature) once explained in his text, quoted by Diplo: Who are diplomats?

French diplomats on strike make a point about professionalism and sustained diplomatic work. Richelieu recognised this back in 1626 when the first Ministry of Foreign Affairs was founded. Today, instant and ad-hoc diplomacy are very popular. For example, President Macron may call or meet with multiple counterparts at summits. However, the real diplomatic impact comes only from continuous and sustained relationship-building and mutual understanding. Diplomacy is more like a marathon, not a sprint.

Change

French diplomats are mistaken to believe that diplomacy can remain the same in the age of disruption. Digitalisation is shaping a new geopolitical environment for diplomacy. Internet cables traverse the globe carrying data as a new political and economic asset. Tech giants are changing the geopolitical space. At US$3.1 trillion, Apple’s market capitalisation at the start of 2022 was higher than the annual GDP of the entire African continent.  Microsoft is the first company to establish official diplomatic offices with representations in New York, Geneva, and Brussels.  The new geopolitical context will require new methods of protecting sovereignty and national interests, which are the core functions of diplomacy.

Next steps

The reforms of foreign ministries around the world will be shaped by the interplay between continuity in the core function, and change in the methods of diplomacy.

More diplomatic strikes, turmoil, and a search to find the right balance between innovation and tradition in diplomacy can be expected.

The good news is that diplomacy will survive, even thrive, in an interdependent society that will need more compromises and peaceful conflict resolutions.

However, diplomacy is far too important for humanity to be left only to diplomats or amateurs.

The war in Ukraine and other modern crises show the pressing need for innovative, inclusive, and impactful diplomacy.

 

You can learn more on digital diplomacy and reform of ministries of foreign affairs here.
03 June 2022
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