French diplomacy: a certain idea of powerlessness

Who will describe the annoyance of the journalist obliged to endure the language elements of the political leaders of the majority on French influence abroad, clinging to them like so many plywood lifelines sold by the suppliers of the quay ‘Orsay?

Also, when the opportunity arises to hear an honest and straightforward speech by diplomatic pundits, gathered in a confidential setting, one must imagine the benefit of this breath of fresh air.

The first steps of the novice Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Séjourné are observed with interest and fear. Between admonition and warning addressed to Israel – whether it concerns the settlements around Jerusalem or the Israeli offensive in Rafah – the ministerial declarations are not surprising: “After his tour of the Middle East, I understand that the Minister of foreign affairs is part of the classic codes of foreign policy”, explains a senior figure in French diplomacy. Translate: “The portfolio has been in the MEP’s pocket for less than a month, he can’t say anything new.” At this stage, the Quai d’Orsay is in a state of self-management by civil servants, and expecting a political imprint at ministerial level is a pipe dream.

That said, it is possible to address the substantive questions, as the Macron presidency enters its final phase.

The observation established by French diplomats is that of a landscape of rubble and ruins: France, clumsy, has been driven out of the Sahel and is preparing to leave West Africa, pushed by states backed by Russia, carried by a young anti-French generation. Moreover, it would be wise for France to leave these countries before being pushed there. “It’s painful for us and painful for Africa,” criticizes former President of the Republic François Hollande in a small group.

Relations with the Maghreb countries are slowed down or at a standstill. “The fact that it took more than six months for the Élysée to find a new Africa advisor to the diplomatic cell says a lot about the deterioration of our influence,” summarizes a source, an expert in the most delicate mechanisms governing diplomacy. French. Lebanon is sinking into the swamps of bankruptcy and clanism, without Paris being able to do anything about it.

As for the Middle East, “the descent into hell” of the executive, described shortly after October 7 by a witness on the front line of the hesitations and successive changes of footing of French diplomacy, is somewhat stopped. However, the situation remains bleak. “Our capacity remains limited. We could have done differently. It was important that the President of the Republic went immediately to Israel, which he did not do, while simultaneously sending messengers to the Arab world. “

Since October 7, 2023, it is now clear that France, corseted in the analyzes of another age, does not perceive the mutations crystallized by the Hamas pogrom, in particular the Islamization of the Palestinian question. Beyond this region, the irruption of religion in conflicts is a fact that we observe in several places in the world, notably in Ukraine and India.

French diplomacy is in crisis, it is no longer effective. The most experienced on the Quai d’Orsay become whistleblowers. “We are cutting ourselves off from the world. China, despite the path of reason taken since 2017 by President Macron, considers that France alone no longer counts. We no longer have the means to negotiate bilaterally. We must be in partnership, otherwise we are not heard,” analyzes a leading figure from Foreign Affairs. And to continue: “We are a country that pays itself with words. When it comes to security in Africa, our weaknesses are exposed in broad daylight. We have lost our positions of strength.”

How can we restore the image of France, an aging nuclear power and member of the UN Security Council? Within the diplomatic community, some are calling for a change in software in order to take a fresh look at the world. “We must stop outdated patterns, free ourselves from the reflex which consists of giving primacy to American analysis. Result: we have lost our intellectual freedom.”

In the new world that is emerging, new modes of operation provide indications on the geopolitical maps that are being drawn. The status of Saudi Arabia, the new international hub, is attracting the attention of several diplomats. Riyadh embodies multi-alignment, the new global governance which validates its sometimes contradictory alliances as long as they serve its national interests. Thus, Riyadh speaks with Beijing, Moscow, Tehran, Washington, Cairo and Jerusalem at the same time. In 2030, the Universal Exhibition will be held in Saudi Arabia, its leader Mohamed Ben Salmane is pursuing one objective: consensus. He has no interest in fueling tensions and will play a major role in the emergence of solutions for post-Hamas in Gaza.

The criticism of the wise men of French diplomacy does not spare the functioning of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, encouraged to draw inspiration from the German model. Berlin sends its young diplomats to train in the countries of the Global South, in India, Mexico, South America, where they rub shoulders with developments in non-Western opinions, while Paris projects its young shoots in London or Washington, to meetings on familiar ground: “As a result, we no longer know what others think,” concludes one pundit.

Not very diplomatic in private, these gunslinging barons of diplomacy stamp diplomatic macronism as a trial and error, twisted by presidential outbursts with no future.”

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