Ustrike scheduled for June 2, ambassadors publicly displaying their support for the movement, forums in the press… The traditionally discreet world of French diplomacy lets burst its “unease” in the face of reforms accentuating according to him the decline of the influence of France in the world. The discontent has been simmering for months, if not years, but erupted after the publication in April in the Official Journal of the decree applying to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the reform of the senior civil service. This reform, desired by President Emmanuel Macron, creates a new body of State administrators and provides that senior civil servants will no longer be attached to a specific administration but will, on the contrary, be invited to change regularly throughout their career.
For the diplomats, around 700 directly concerned by the reform, this translates into a merger and then gradual “extinction” by 2023 of the two historical bodies of French diplomacy, plenipotentiary ministers (ambassadors) and foreign affairs advisers. Either, believe many of them, “the end of professional diplomacy” French, third international network behind the United States and China. Six unions and a collective of 500 young diplomats called for a strike on June 2, an extremely rare social movement (the last strike took place in 2003) in the history of the Quai d’Orsay, “a house which has not yet no rebellious tradition, ”underlines Olivier da Silva, head of the CFTC executives union.
“Overworked, underpaid, underequipped”
Even more symptomatic, dozens of high-ranking diplomats have announced in recent days on Twitter their participation or their support for the strike, under the hashtag #diplo2metier. “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”, thus tweeted the ambassador to Kuwait, Claire Le Flécher, “diplomats are not interchangeable”, has estimated his colleague in Oman, Véronique Aulagnon. Summing up the mood, Ambassador to Azerbaijan Zacharie Gross wrote: “French diplomats are dedicated body and soul, but are overworked, underpaid, underequipped. »
In addition to a reform which, according to them, will also lead to “appointments of convenience”, a “destructuring of careers” and a “crisis of vocations”, 500 diplomats grouped together in a collective expressed concern in a column recently published in the daily The world a “vertiginous reduction in resources” (50% reduction in staff in 30 years) and “decades of marginalization of the role of the ministry within the State”. Diplomacy has traditionally been the reserved domain of the president, but this orientation is particularly strong under the Macron presidency. The head of state has also not spared his diplomats, in particular by denouncing before them in 2019 a “deep state” within the Quai d’Orsay.
A rediscovered dialogue with Catherine Colonna?
“Diplomats have a bad image when in reality they are civil servants very attached to the republican administration”, insists an ambassador of the network on condition of anonymity. “We want a diplomatic tool that allows France to maintain its rank. But we have the impression of being discredited, of not having the necessary means… And it shows: what are the great successes of French diplomacy since COP21 in 2015? Nothing,” he breathes.
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 concern is real, the staff are tired”, we recognize however from a source close to the file, stressing that the social movement intervenes in a “very difficult context”: more than two years of Covid, successions of crises, evacuations from Kabul after the Taliban victory in August 2021 to the war in Ukraine, the expulsions of diplomats by Russia, the crisis with Mali… In addition, the sometimes still vague contours of the reform of the senior civil service do not allow to give all the answers to the worried diplomats, who want “guarantees engraved in marble”, admits the same source. About 13,500 agents (permanent, contractual, local recruitment, etc.) are employed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, according to official figures.