All Ministries undertake the preparatory work and implement the decisions made by the political powers: Minister, Government, President of the Republic. It is especially true for foreign policy and in diplomacy.
Foreign Policy and diplomacy
In practice, the two are often confused. However, there are subtle differences between them. Foreign policy relates to the major options that correspond to a country’s identity, to the idea that it has of its underlying interests, its long term goals. Foreign policy is ratifying the treaty of Amsterdam, intervening with NATO in Kosovo. It has a similar role to that of strategy in military matters. Diplomacy more about tactics. It is the implementation of foreign policy in direct contact with partners: whether to participate in a conference and at what level, whether to grant a loan at preferential rates. In the simplest terms, it could be said that foreign policy is not afraid of risking disputes and that diplomacy is dedicated to resolving them. The word also refers to the art of negotiation and lastly, refers to all the staff that are responsible for these functions.
"Diplomacy is simply the day to day application of foreign policy." Metternich
The Ministry proposes
It is its responsibility to make rapid suggestions on how to react to external events: initiatives undertaken by other states (for example India’s nuclear tests) or natural disasters affecting our compatriots. However, it is better still to forestall the event, anticipate the risks by careful vigilance, developing measures and warning leaders. To anticipate, devise, consider and recommend make up the primary mission of the posts and services. The official responsible for a dossier is not merely an underling. He is encouraged to offer his ideas, which, if he inspires confidence, will climb the ladder of the hierarchy and may become the official position of France. The process is likely to take some time if the subject is particularly technical. Sometimes circumstances require some stages to be missed out and an emergency committee is convened. The Ministry makes every effort to shorten both the chain of responsibility and the decision making process by making use of the new information and communication techniques. The recent reorganisation of central administration stipulates that each department in its field "defines and implements" the action of France. The final decision is obviously taken at a political level.
The political powers dispose
The Minister is head of the diplomatic service. Like his colleagues, he controls his services and their activities. Like them too, he has to present some of his propositions to the Council of Ministers. However, his position is particular because the 1958 Constitution gives the President of the Republic an considerable role in foreign policy. The Minister is therefore required to collaborate closely with the President, as well as with the Prime Minister, the head of government, who according to the Constitution "draws up and carries out the policy of the Nation". Whatever their political relations, the national interest requires that "the French authorities speak with a single voice, even if it comes out of several mouths", according to Hubert Védrine.
An instrument of diplomacy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is a tool that facilitates decision making on foreign policy at all levels.