Wednesday, August 27, 2008

New school year for French diplomacy

The transition period from the end of August to the start of September is referred to, in French, as the rentrée: the return to work and serious affairs, after the summer vacation (for the fortunate few who can afford vacations). Certain observers might consider that diplomats, like retired employees (such as me), are on full-time vacation, in that they don't have to trot off to a dull office in a French city every weekday. Fair enough. You might recall that, in my Guinea pig article of 17 July 2008 [display], I joked about the fact that my weekly dose of experimental pills constitutes a primitive calendar. This morning, at my annual checkup at Romans, the Inserm guy asked me how I was coping with their pills, and I told him that story. He replied: "In any case, your entire daily existence is composed, now, of weekends." The poor bastard must be overworked.

Every year since 1993, the French Republic has been organizing an annual get-together in Paris of its 180 ambassadors and senior administrators of the prestigious Quay d'Orsay ministry of Foreign Affairs. Here's a photo of last year's class:

The 16th Conférence des Ambassadeurs has just got under way, and it will last for three days.

The diplomatic role of France in the world has been enhanced, since July, by the fact that the Republic has been presiding over the European Union. Obviously, the primary preoccupation of the present conference is the situation in Georgia. In his opening address, today, Nicolas Sarkozy insisted upon the necessity of Russia's immediate retreat from the occupied provinces of Georgia.

Meanwhile, the foreign minister Bernard Kouchner has a grand planetary vision for French Foreign Affairs. He would like to see the the Quai d'Orsay evolving into a "ministry of globalization". This change should lead to both modernization and cost-cutting in France's 158 embassies and 21 multilateral representations throughout the world. If and when these reforms are enacted, there'll be less glitter in French diplomacy. Ideally, the glamor, foie gras and champagne will be replaced by sound suggestions about making the planet a more peaceful and pleasant place for humanity. We'll see...

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