“Quai d’Orsay is too inclined to work in a vacuum”

The end of diplomatic unions announced by Emmanuel Macron became official in the Official Gazette on Sunday. A controversial reform at a time when French diplomacy was put to the test by the war in Ukraine or the rise of anti-French sentiment in West Africa. Interview with former ambassador Nicolas Normand.

This is one of the measures of the top civil service reform announced by President Emmanuel Macron a few months ago. Sunday, April 17, the end of the two diplomatic unions forming the Quai d’Orsay hierarchy was formalized by being published in the Official Gazette.

About 800 senior officials, including foreign affairs advisers and plenipotentiary ministers, namely 182 ambassadors and 89 consuls, will be brought together from 1 country.is is In July, all senior civil servants are under the same status granted to the status of State administrator.

For the French president, this reform, which included the abolition of the National School of Administration (ENA) – replaced by the National Institute of Civil Service (ISP) – aims to compartmentalize the senior civil service to integrate more diverse ones from the private sector. even associations.

But there are those within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who denounce a measure that risks losing France’s influence in the world, and those who accuse Emmanuel Macron of wanting to control appointments.

On Monday, the criticism came under criticism by several opposition political figures, including Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Marine Le Pen and even Éric Ciotti.

France 24 met with Nicolas Normand, the former French ambassador to Mali, Congo and Senegal, to learn about this reform, as well as the role of French diplomats and the burning issues they face today.

France 24: With this reform, people from the Quai d’Orsay and trade unions and political figures regretted the end of professional diplomacy. What is your opinion ?

Nicholas Normand: I think this reform is very caricatured. This is a measure that improves the management of the senior civil service by making it more transparent to the public and elected officials. It certainly aims to broaden profiles within ministries, but that in no way prevents graduates who choose to pursue a career at the Quai d’Orsay stay there. All other senior civil servants in ministries already have a common status, this clearly does not mean that they are interchangeable.

A person who has passed the competition for the East manager (Consultant / Foreign Relations Consultant, NDRL) and is therefore an expert in the geographical area and in a foreign language will of course retain his expertise. There would be no reason for the Quai d’Orsay to do without his abilities.

Furthermore, the exchange between Foreign Affairs advisers and Plenipotentiary Ministers within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has hitherto been subject to an optional and non-transparent procedure. Removing these statutes could make it easier for Foreign Affairs advisers to advance in their careers.

Finally, I remind you that for those who think that this reform will allow the President to appoint “friendly” appointments, it is already possible for him to choose a certain number of non-civil servant profiles to represent France abroad.

Some critical voices complain that France is losing its influence on the international scene. Do you share this vision? ?

This observation is a fact, but it goes far beyond France. Faced with the rise of new powers, economically, demographically and even militarily, Western countries have seen their dominant position weakened, it is a fact. Today Europe is no longer a key actor in resolving conflicts on the planet. The example of the war in Ukraine, although very imminent, illustrates this difficulty in weighing the EU against the militaristic will of Vladimir Putin. The UN Security Council, in which France is the only permanent representative of the European Union, lost its effectiveness, which was blocked by the conflict between the USA on the one hand and China and Russia on the other.

Of course, in addition to this evolution of the world, French diplomacy faces a number of problems that need to be worked on. The role of diplomatic units is twofold: it consists, on the one hand, of influencing the authorities of foreign countries, and on the other, of analyzing the situation of these countries. First, there has been a major shift in recent years with the increasing power of civil societies over the Internet. Ambassadors are no longer content to simply exchange ideas with representatives of the State to which they are sent, they must no longer question and communicate with those who are sometimes critical, whether artists, influencers or activists, in order to establish a dialogue and clear the ground.

In terms of analysis, the Quai d’Orsay is too prone to operate in a vacuum when it has to work in concert with researchers specializing in those countries. This is all the more important as diplomats, who usually only serve for a few years in some places, are sometimes under-qualified and can make serious judgmental errors. However, in a disordered world, the work of ambassadors, both in terms of influence and analysis, is more necessary than ever to defend France’s interests and defuse crises.

From 2002 to 2006 you were ambassador in West Africa several times, especially in Mali. How do you interpret the rise of anti-French sentiment in this region and the recent expulsion of the French ambassador to Bamako? ?

We have a general education problem in Africa. Since the disappearance of the Ministry of Cooperation, which replaced the competition for overseas rulers established during the colonial era, African expertise has been limited to a very small fraction of the East’s executive competition.

Also in 2013, France made an obvious mistake during Operation Serval in Mali by allying with separatists in the North, which was so badly perceived by Bamako. This incident, exploited by the military force that today accuses Paris of wanting to divide Mali, has resulted in France being rejected in the country.

French military interventions and maintenance of military bases in Ivory Coast, Libya and Mali also fueled suspicions against France in this region. Finally, the Quai d’Orsay’s lack of interest in the issue of the CFA franc left to the Ministry of Finance is another big mistake, as this currency is considered by many in Africa to be the guardian of their sovereignty.

Clearly, French diplomats underestimated the former colonies’ sensitivity to respect for sovereignty, creating growing unrest in Mali, Niger and Burkina. In addition, the instrumentalization of this issue by Russia provokes anti-French sentiment. With the military junta in Mali, France seems to have reached the point of no return. However, a later improvement in relations may be possible. For this, France must be more attentive to the people and leaders, and learn common sense, even invisibility, to avoid being a scapegoat.

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