Four questions to understand the controversy over the end of the two most prestigious French diplomatic corps

Two bodies in the sea. The government recorded, Sunday, April 17, in the Official Journal, the “extinguishing” of France’s most prestigious diplomatic corps. The posts of ambassador or consul general will be more widely open to senior civil servants who have not cut their teeth in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which raises concerns about the quality and prestige of future French diplomacy. Franceinfo explains the underside of this sensitive decree, published in the middle of the in-between rounds of the presidential election.

1Which diplomatic corps are involved?

The decree signed by Jean Castex puts an end to the bodies of “foreign affairs advisers” and “plenipotentiary ministers”. Until now, these were the two highest ranks of French diplomatic staff. They constituted the royal road to accede to the dignity of ambassador abroad.

To integrate these grades, the 900 jewels of the Quai d’Orsay had to come from the National School of Administration (ENA) or the very selective competition for “executives from the Orient”, organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From July 1, the two bodies will be “put into extinction”, before a definitive disappearance in favor of the body of “State administrators”. The latter is the new inter-ministerial pool of senior civil servants, also populated by prefects or general inspectors of finance.

2Why is the government removing them?

This deletion is part of the reform of the senior civil service, carried by Emmanuel Macron. After the replacement of the ENA by the National Institute of Public Service in January, the executive now intends to shake up the Quai d’Orsay. Its objective is to fight against “corporatism”to diversify the profile of senior diplomats and to encourage mobility between ministries. “Today, our diplomats want to vary the experiences, ensures the Ministry of Public Transformation at the Parisian. At the Quai d’Orsay, you may want to go to the Ministry of Agriculture and then come back.”

Foreign Affairs will be more open to executives from the private sector or civil society. Such an orientation had already been defended in 2018, during the controversy over the ephemeral appointment of the writer Philippe Besson as consul in Los Angeles. The government then extolled the benefits of “different profiles from civil society, the world of culture, the world of the arts, the world of business”.

3Why is this reform criticized?

Tensions appeared last year among diplomats. “This disappearance will affect all diplomatic careers, built over time by multiplying the experiences and assignmentsworried then the CFDT-MAE, majority, in The world. It’s a way of denying our profession.” This fear of a “loss of skill” and of “memory” at the Quai d’Orsay was relayed on Tuesday by former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, on Twitter.

“This reform is a mistake”pressed the former Minister of Foreign Affairs Michel Barnier, Monday, on Twitterseeing it as a danger to “effective and influential diplomacy”. A collective of 150 young diplomats had already alerted on this point in a column published in November in The world : “The victim of this reform will be French diplomacy, and our country’s international influence through it. Our ability to help our fellow citizens is also in danger.”

>> “A danger for our institutions”: diplomats denounce the reform of the senior civil service

A less experienced, less influential, but also less meritocratic diplomacy? The former French ambassador to the United States Gérard Araud ruled on Monday on Twitterthat “the door is now open to American-style nominations”. Emmanuel Macron “wants to replace impartial state servants with cronyism”accused, in the process, Marine Le Pen, on Twitter. The RN presidential candidate has promised, in the event of an election, to “restore merit-based diplomatic status”. “Promo buddies will be able to be named”quipped the third man in the presidential election, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, on Twitter.

4How does the executive defend itself?

The Prime Minister, Jean Castex, assured, Tuesday, on France Interthat the diplomats “will retain a body, status, impartiality, training, recruitment by competition”. “The difference is that all these bodies have to [de la haute fonction publique] open up more, that there is more diversity, more cross-functionality, that they go more into the field”he defended.

“There will always be professional diplomats. Let’s not confuse status with profession.”

Jean Castex, Prime Minister

on France Inter

In recent months, the executive has tried to minimize the effects of this reform. “France will always have ambassadors, consuls, will always have a diplomatic network which is one of the most important in the world”assured the Minister of Transformation and the Public Service, Amélie de Montchalin, at the Worldin November.

In detail, to allow a minimum of continuity, the body of Foreign Secretaries, the lower level to the two abolished bodies, survives. Without denying his initial hostility to the project, Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian assured the Senate in January that he had obtained from Matignon the maintenance of the “Oriental competition”. He also saved “the possibility for agents who have chosen diplomacy, whatever their status or their competition, to be able to spend their entire career at the Quai d’Orsay if they wish”.

Faced with the risks cited in terms of cronyism, the entourage of Amélie de Montchalin deplores “political recovery”. The appointments of ambassadors are already a prerogative of the President of the Republic, enshrined in Article 13 of the Constitution. What will this reform really change? According to Public Senate, a senatorial fact-finding mission was launched in February to measure the consequences of the abolition of the two bodies. Its report is expected by this summer.

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