French diplomats will be embarking on a strike action for the first time in 20 years on Thursday, June 2, 2022, in protest against a perceived lack of recognition and reforms pushed by the President, which they said could damage France’s global standing.
The upcoming action won support from 500 Foreign Ministry civil servants in a newspaper opinion piece and also seen widespread backing from Senior Diplomats and Ambassadors on social media.
The strike is coming at a bad time for President Emmanuel Macron, as France holds the European Union presidency until the end of June 2022, with Mr. Macron seeking to play a leading role in the bloc’s response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and at the same time, look for fresh motivation to his presidential mandate.
Details of the Reforms
The public sector reforms will see the diplomatic career structure change, including scrapping a special status for Senior foreign Ministry officials, which will mean they would fall into a broader civil service category.
According to a strike notice for June 2, 2022, sent by Unions, it noted that “The reform of the Senior Civil Service is the latest attack on our professions, our expertise, our future”, adding that “This reform reflects an incomprehensible desire to undermine our ministry and risks permanently weakening our country’s ability to project and defend itself in the world”.
But Ministry officials played down the effect, and in a statement on May 19, 2022, Ministry Spokeswoman, Anne Claire Legendre, assured that solid guarantees were obtained to preserve the diplomatic profession and careers.
Third-largest Diplomatic Network
France boasts of the world’s third-largest diplomatic network with about 1,800 diplomats and, in total, about 13,500 officials working at the Foreign Ministry.
Half a dozen diplomats who spoke to the media said the reform is merely the culmination of years of malaise that saw staffing fall by about 20 percent since 2007, as well as repeated budget cuts just as the demands on the service increased. According to diplomats, conditions worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Macron’s past accusations of diplomats at times working against the executive, and a sense that the work of the Foreign Ministry is not always recognized, have also not gone down well.
A diplomat based overseas intimated that “There is a real feeling of incomprehension and disconnect from reality”, and as such, they at least want the strike to lead to a proper debate. Some averred Mr. Macron’s appointment of Career Diplomat, Catherine Colonna, as Foreign Minister is an effort to appease the diplomatic corps. One European Diplomat said the changes are sending a poor message overseas because they appeared to be downgrading the Foreign Ministry’s role, which is potentially harming long-term relations and expertise. “It’s like having a sports journalist analysing weather patterns”, the Diplomat pointed out.
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