The Minister is responsible for the day to day execution of foreign policy, in Paris and abroad.
Diplomacy is "setting to music"
Diplomatic decisions are made at different levels depending on their importance. They can be found in very different guises, while generally remaining very informal. It may be a hand written comment on a note going back to the Élysée, a "blue" from Matignon, a verbal order from the Minister passed on by his office or the Secretary General’s instructions at the end of a meeting. In all cases, it is the services that are responsible for "setting decisions to music", that is to say developing the measures necessary for carrying them out, sharing out the tasks, establishing a programme and a time scale and preparing the necessary draft texts
The major decisions in foreign policy have extensive ramifications, both at the level at which they are carried out and the numerous practical measures that are the day to day responsibility of the central administration and the embassies.
Without doubt, the simplest measures consist of communicating with a foreign embassy or responding to an approach from one. In the most serious cases, the ambassador is called to an interview with the Secretary General or the Minister in person. A report is made on the interview, the speed of which is of the utmost importance. A majority of the time of the services is spent in preparing institutional or impromptu bilateral and multilateral meetings, at all levels from directors to President of the Republic. For example, the policy chiefs of the fifteen European Union member states meet a minimum of once a month. At least once or twice a year and in fact usually more often, the Minister meets with his colleagues from most of the largest countries. On each occasion, the services draw up dossiers which, on one hand, supply any useful information on the partner state or states, and on the other hand, suggest positions as well as messages that should be conveyed on the subjects up for discussion. A proposition to open negotiations (for example on Kosovo) requires a great deal of prior careful consideration and a large amount of practical preparation. The posts abroad are also included in the process.
Written and oral records: The document providing a written record of an approach is called a verbatim note or sometimes a "non-paper".
Any diplomatic action presupposes that the posts in the country or organisation in question are kept informed or indeed are given responsibility for initiating it. Every day, the services in Paris send instructions to ambassadors to approach their contacts. The ambassadors report in the same way, requesting instructions on the points they feel they are unable to settle. The heady progress in the ease of communication may tempt ambassadors to consult Paris all the time; and may tempt the administration to keep their heads of mission "on the lead". Therein lies the cause of the flood of telegrams that submerge the decision makers. A large part of this correspondence should now use the new communication routes (electronic mail in particular). However, the capacity to react to it has to be speeded up. However, for those wishing to, events will always provide the opportunity to take responsibility: it is a question of character and judgement.
The flood of telegrams : the number of telegrams has gone from 300,000 to 500,00 between 1992 and 1998.
- A tour of the Quai d’Orsay
- A tour of the Quai d'Orsay