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French Diplomats Go on Strike in Rare Protest

Hundreds of French embassy, consulate and expert staff around the world are halting work for the day in protest over reforms they say threaten the future of "professional diplomacy."
Macron is facing pushback over reforms that would open diplomatic posts to other civil servants

Macron is facing pushback over reforms that would open diplomatic posts to other civil servants

In a rare move for France's diplomatic corps, hundreds of members are going on strike on Thursday.

They hope to put pressure on President Emmanuel Macron to cancel planned reforms aimed at merging diplomats into France's larger civil servant pool — a move staff say amounts to the "brutal eradication of the diplomatic corps."

What is happening during the strike?

While diplomatic staff located in posts around the globe will lay down their work for the day-long strike, others will take part in a protest near France's Foreign Ministry headquarters — a complex known as the Quai d'Orsay in Paris.

In a country known for its labor actions, it's only the second time in the past 20 years that France's diplomats have gone on strike, according to union heads.

At least 500 civil servants in the Foreign Ministry staff are taking part in the strike, according to a joint statement and commentary published in the French Le Monde newspaper.

Why are they striking?

In April, Macron announced new government reforms which seek to diversify and modernize the diplomatic staff in France's Foreign Ministry.

The country's elite diplomatic corps, which has been in existence since the 16th century, has until now been separate from the rest of France's civil service.

The reforms seek to change that — putting diplomats in a larger group that includes the rest of France's public service. In doing so, it would enable staff to more easily switch between ministries and increase competition for diplomatic posts. The plans are set to take effect in January next year, affecting 800 diplomats.

Diplomatic staffers have pushed back against the government reforms, saying their jobs require specific training, specialization and experience gained from years of working in posts around the globe.

The reforms "will allow appointments of convenience to the detriment of competence and will result in the de-structuring of careers, a loss of expertise and a vocational crisis," striking staff wrote in the Le Monde commentary.

"We are facing the risk of professional diplomacy disappearing," they added.

The diplomats also noted that the announcement of the reforms is coming at an especially tense time in the world of diplomacy — with Russia's war in Ukraine still ongoing, France holding the rotating European Union presidency, and amid complex and contentious talks over Iran's nuclear program.

What have officials said?

Newly appointed French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna has not commented on the strike.

Other diplomatic staff took to social media to announce their participation in the strike and opposition to the reforms, using the hashtag "#diplo2metier."

"I have too much respect for all other professions, trades & crafts to accept the fallacy that anyone can do any job," Thibault Samson, a member of France's mission to the United Nations, wrote on Twitter.

Yannick Samson, a member of the French Embassy in China covering climate issues, said he would join the strike "against a reform that will undoubtedly weaken our collective efficacy."

France's ambassador to Kuwait, Claire Le Flecher, was among those striking, as well as other staff from Japan to the United States.

Dominique de Villepin, a former prime minister and foreign minister, said in a tweet in April that the planned reforms were "a historic fault" that would mean "a loss of independence, a loss of competence, a loss of memory that will weigh heavily on the years ahead."

rs/sms (AP, AFP)

Courtesy: DW

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