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article imageDiplomats say budget cuts are reducing French world influence

By Michael Cosgrove     Aug 27, 2010 in Politics
Alarmist predictions in the press about the quality of French diplomacy are now commonplace in France, with diplomats saying that the country’s “soft power” capability is being seriously degraded.
Each month of August sees all French ambassadors in Paris for their annual meeting. But behind the calm facade there is growing worry being expressed by diplomats who fear that French diplomacy is losing its influence because of severe budget cuts and that French diplomacy is reaching a point of no return, says Rue 89.
The situation was enough to prompt an ex-Ambassador of major standing – Alain Juppé - and ex-Foreign Minister Herbert Vedrine, who are nevertheless on different sides of the political divide, to join together recently for a stinging rebuke of current policies in Le Monde, saying that “We are worried about the consequences for France of this weakening of diplomatic and cultural networks, which is unprecedented.”
Current diplomats are keeping quiet in public, but privately it’s another matter. A major ambassador is said to have confided his sentiments to journalists under cover of anonymity. His judgment is severe.
“We’d better be careful not to provoke the end of the policy of influence and promotion of our country. Each individual cut is not important in itself, but they all add up to have a serious impact. We’ll end up by not representing much in a few years. If this continues, we are going to close ourselves off from the world, and no-one is waiting for us to catch up.”
He underlined that American-style “soft power” – using non-violent and cultural means of influencing countries, is fast disappearing in France, quoting examples such as international cultural initiatives and events, grants offered to foreign engineers to study and accepting foreign children into French schools around the world.
Despite recently announced spending measures on diplomacy by Prime Minister François Fillon, the €100 involved is derisory compared to cuts which have largely offset that sum, say ambassadors. The budget for diplomacy has been cut by over 20% over the last 25 years, say Juppé and Vedrine.
In another article in Le Monde, three ex-secretary generals at the Foreign Office said that the budget for diplomacy now represents only 1% of the national budget. They quoted France’s 140 cultural centers around the world, which they say are all being run on a budget equivalent to the Paris Opera.
They say that new cuts already announced will worsen a situation in which French diplomacy was already at the limit of what could be reduced without reducing its capacity to function.
Other countries, of course, are rushing into the gaps left by shrinking French influence and capacity, notably on the African continent. Those countries include China and Germany.
But more seriously, says Rue89, the loss of French influence is not just a passing phenomena. It is also linked to a redistribution of the cards of international power which is going on at the same time as what promise to be more cuts over the long term due to economic factors. And those cuts are being made at the expense of a long term strategic vision just at the wrong moment.
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