Members of the French diplomatic corps went on strike on Thursday against a plan to reform the country’s foreign service.
Ambassadors and scores of diplomats, in posts from Tokyo to the Middle East and Washington, joined the one-day industrial action.
They are angry at President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to merge career diplomats with more civil servants, which diplomats say will hurt their careers and France’s standing in the world.
“We risk the disappearance of our professional diplomacy,” wrote some 500 diplomats in the newspaper Le Monde last week. “Today, [diplomatic] […]are convinced that the very existence of the department is now in question.
This is the first time that the French diplomatic corps has gone on strike for 20 years.
The industrial action won the support of 500 Foreign Office officials in the opinion piece in Le Monde and received widespread support from senior diplomats and ambassadors on social media.
“Thursday, June 2, I’m going on strike. We sometimes work in the evening, on weekends, with the children, at 1 p.m., at 6 p.m.,” tweeted Boris Caps, adviser to the French embassy in Australia. post a pic of him working out with a baby in his lap.
Announced by Macron in an April decree, the reform process will begin in July and would involve around 800 diplomats.
It aims to modernize and diversify the French diplomatic corps, created in the 16th century, and to break down the walls of what some in the government consider an elite institution withdrawn into itself.
If implemented, diplomats will be clustered in all branches of the civil service, encouraging transfers to other ministries and forcing staff to compete with foreigners for prized diplomatic posts.
The diplomats say their work requires specialization and expertise acquired over years in posts around the world and cannot be performed by outsiders.
A European diplomat told Reuters the changes sent the wrong message abroad as they appeared to downgrade the role of the Foreign Office, potentially damaging long-term relationships and expertise.
“It’s like a sports journalist analyzing the weather conditions,” they said.
Half a dozen other French diplomats Reuters spoke to said the reform was just the culmination of years of malaise that have seen staff numbers fall by around 20% since 2007 and budget cuts repeated even as the demands on the service increased.
Conditions have worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, diplomats added.
France has the third largest diplomatic network in the world with some 1,800 diplomats and a total of around 13,500 civil servants working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.