The first duty of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is to supply the authorities at any time and without delay with information that is precise, accurate and up to date on any international problem.
Where does information come from?
Every official responsible for a region or a dossier has the same means available as everyone else: agency dispatches which arrive directly on his terminal, information in the press and other media gathered by the department of communication and information and specialist publications kept in the libraries. He has access to the Internet via "terminals" respecting confidentiality where necessary. He has a network of internal and external contacts that may be quickly questioned (each department keeps a list): colleagues, experts, academics, business contacts, pressure or reflection groups. In addition, he benefits from the Department’s own sources: archives, Intranet, the internal information network, e-mailing colleagues in Paris and abroad and above all the flood of telegrams arriving from the posts onto his office screen, which remains his raw material. Information is abundant, it only remains to process it.
"It is a good thing to be always well informed" Rabelais, Tiers Livre, 1546.
What happens to the information?
News from the embassies often arrives less quickly than that from the agencies, unless it is confidential information. However, the information has already been checked and commented upon, which does not nevertheless prevent having a "second look" at it. Other information has to be sorted, evaluated and analysed in the light of experience by the diplomat responsible. It is also his responsibility to direct this flow of information. The information function is not passive: it involves a permanent watch being kept for those things that do not necessarily jump out, on the long term trends, on the precursors of tomorrow’s facts and ideas, on indications of crises. It is a complete "diplomatic weather forecast", demanding initiative and intuition. In this spirit, on instructions from a senior, the diplomat draws up analyses or summaries of current affairs as well as on the underlying issues.
“This letter is so long only because[...]I did not have time to make it shorter." Pascal, Provinciales, 1656-1657.
Where does the information go?
Most diplomatic information, unlike press articles, focuses on action. This objective provides the tone for all the documents produced by the services. Headings, forms, notes or dossiers, are all designed to be used by the decision makers. They must consequently be clear, short and concise. Within the Ministry, the departments send these notes to the Secretary General and are passed on to the Minister’s office or the office with authority. The office may then pass on the information outside the Ministry to, for example, other Ministries, Matignon, the Élysée or to Parliament. It may however, also pass it on to enterprises, associations or territorial organisations that also contribute to the image and action of France outside its own borders.
Information, sent to the decision makers increasingly quickly by using the new communication technologies, is the foundation of diplomatic activities.
- A tour of the Quai d’Orsay
- A tour of the Quai d'Orsay