For the first time in 20 years, French diplomats have called for a strike

‘Tired’, ‘worried about their future’ and ‘indifferent’, Quai d’Orsay employees on Thursday were asked to go on strike to protest a series of reforms they believe are jeopardizing the efficiency and prestige of French diplomacy. . The movement, which is extremely rare in a traditionally conservative home and has little focus on protest, was launched at the invitation of six unions and a group of 500 young diplomats. A top civil service reform that President Emmanuel Macron wanted, and which would have consequences for diplomatic life, was the impetus for the movement, but discontent has already been simmering for several years.

“Repairs, reduced resources, employee fatigue …”

“The backlog of reforms, the constant decrease in resources, leads to employee fatigue and chaos,” explains CFTC diplomat and unionist Olivier da Silva, noting that “anger is at a particularly high level” in the network. An unprecedented fact, several high-ranking diplomats, ambassadors and regional directors have been posting their support for the movement on Twitter over the past few days, under the hashtag #Diplo2métier.

Some, such as Kuwait ambassadors Claire Le Fleischer or Oman’s Veronique Olgnon, have announced that they will strike, and others, such as Quai d’Orsay director of political affairs Philippe Errera, have retweeted a column recently published by the Collective Young Diplomats. Gatherings are even planned in front of the ministry in Paris and Nantes, where the Center for Diplomatic Archives is located.

“There is no threat to the continuity of the defense of interests.”

Ambassadors and consular agents have the right to strike, but “of course we will never threaten the protection of our citizens and our interests. We call for a halt to work as soon as this does not threaten the continuity of defending our interests,” says Oliver da Silva. And he adds, “A mere strike is already an event in itself,” considering it a “cry of alarm.” “Our ministry is damaged, it must be fixed.” Unions and collective calls for the organization of diplomatic meetings.

Subject of concerns, the reform of the senior civil service creates a new body of state officials and stipulates that senior civil servants will not be attached to a particular department, but, on the contrary, will be invited to change it regularly throughout their careers.

700 diplomats affected by the reform

For diplomats – about 700 directly affected by the reform – this translates into a gradual merger and then “extinction” by 2023 of the two historic bodies of French diplomacy, ministers plenipotentiary (ambassadors) and foreign affairs advisers. Either, as many of them believe, the “end of professional diplomacy” of France, the third international network after the United States and China.

“With this reform, the French will be represented by people who are not trained in the rules of diplomacy, or are not ready. Being a consul is not only an honorary role as I’ve heard. In the morgue we declare death.. We must maintain the professionalism of our diplomacy.” .

Concern about employee fatigue

A senior diplomat, who also did not give his name, said he was very concerned about “staffing staff in the face of the constant stress associated with declining resources”. “There is certainly gold in the Quai d’Orsay, but the truth is that there are fewer and fewer means,” says this source. The ministry, where Catherine Colonna has just arrived, a professional diplomat whose appointment was interpreted as a “message” for employees, claims to have “established a good social dialogue” with all trade unions.

“The concern is real, the crew is tired,” but we understand from a source close to the file, stressing that the social movement is interfering in a “very difficult context”: more than two years of Covid, succession of crises, evacuations from Kabul after the August 2021 Taliban victory over the war in Ukraine, Russia’s expulsion of diplomats, the crisis with Mali … The Ministry of Foreign Affairs employs about 13,500 agents (fixed, contract, local recruitment …) according to official figures.

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