July 15. 2024. 8:05

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Legislative elections: The great fear of French Diplomats

With the Rassemblement national (RN) inching closer than ever towards taking power in France, many French diplomats fear what having to serve under a far-right government might bring.

Few people dare to talk about it publicly, but the subject is on everyone’s lips, between friends and colleagues, on private Whatsapp groups, and sometimes even informally with the hierarchy, ahead of the decisive second electoral round on 7 July.

RN came out convincingly on top in the first round on 30 June, followed by a broad leftist alliance, with President Emmanuel Macron’s list a distant third,

“It’s a disgrace,” said a French civil servant working in a European country, summing up the feelings of many colleagues.

“Everyone is wondering what to do if the far right comes to power. Some hope to be forgotten in small embassies, but others are in exposed positions and will receive daily instructions from Paris. And they will have to apply them.”

France has one of the densest diplomatic networks in the world, with 163 embassies, sixteen permanent representations to multilateral bodies (European Union, United Nations, OECD, UNESCO, NATO, etc.) and a thousand French institutes and alliances.

Budgets have been shrinking for a long time and the Quai d’Orsay was hit by the second strike in its history in spring 2022, just as Macron was embarking on a contested reform of the status of diplomats. But the questions facing France’s representatives abroad today are much more insidious.

This concern is shared by a Brussels-based civil servant, who said she feared “major changes in France’s position on issues that will shape the EU’s position in the world, such as support for Ukraine, or budgetary choices that undermine our leadership, such as official development assistance”.

Binationals in the hot seat

In addition to these expected upheavals in French foreign policy, the arrival of the far right could pose much more personal problems for some, as the RN wants to “prevent” people with dual nationality from holding “extremely sensitive jobs”, the list of which will be defined “by decree”.

A young Franco-Algerian diplomat agreed to share his concerns with Euractiv, describing the fears of seeing “two categories of civil servants, the French who will have access to all posts, and the binationals – particularly those from the Maghreb – who will be confined to a restricted category of jobs”.

Despite the growing discontent, the diplomats Euractiv spoke to are not considering resigning if the RN were to take over at the Quai d’Orsay.

Instead, they prefer to keep “a certain amount of room for manoeuvre”, as the Brussels diplomat pointed out, recalling the experience of American colleagues during the Trump era, or Polish diplomats during the reign of the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) between 2015 and 2023.

Struggles at the Ministry

A few days before the second round of legislative elections, the French administration seems to be anticipating a far-right victory.

“At the Foreign Minister’s Crisis and Support Centre, as well as at the Directorate-General for Globalisation, verbal instructions have been given to commit subsidies before the second round of legislative elections,” another diplomat explained.

On Tuesday (2 July), RN leader Marine Le Pen accused Macron of conducting “an administrative coup d’état” as the French president is trying as quickly as possible to place his men, using his right of appointment.

At the government meeting on 26 June, new permanent representatives were appointed to the NATO Council and the Organisation of American States.

“Unlike other European countries, the French administration is very vertical, the ministerial cabinets carry a lot of weight and the ministers naturally influence the appointments of senior civil servants. This is also what will happen if the Rassemblement national comes to power,” the Brussels-based diplomat explained.

In the meantime, many of them have recently been thinking of “taking time off to see how the situation develops”, or of being “seconded, for example to European institutions”.

At the same time, while the RN is almost certain to win the most seats, it may fall short of an absolute majority. This could result in a hung parliament and an ungovernable administration as Macron and an RN-led parliament try to outmanoeuvre each other and impose their authority, including on foreign policy.

Read more with Euractiv

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