The chancery


Traditionally, this term describes the small team of diplomats who are the head of mission’s closest colleagues.

The “number two”

He assists and if necessary stands in for the ambassador in all ambassadorial functions. As the ambassador’s primary focus is on tasks that take him out of the embassy (approaches, representation, communication), it is, during this time, his deputy’s responsibility to keep "the wheels turning". He centralises correspondence and checks its consistency as well as ensuring co-ordination between technical services. He supervises day to day administration and is nearly always the "security officer", responsible for the protection of officials and documents. If the head of mission is absent, he replaces him in his capacity as "chargé d’affaires". In the larger embassies, the number two is called the "Minister Counsellor". In dozens of offices, he and the ambassador are in fact the only diplomats: there is no number three.

Continuous surveillance: The security officer commands the group of gendarmes or police officers that are together responsible for guarding the premises day and night and who welcome visitors, often giving them their first impression of France.

The diplomatic team

It includes counsellors, secretaries and attachés in various numbers: there are about fifteen in the Washington embassy or in the delegations to the United Nations or the European Union; more often there are only one or two. Each deals with a particular category of dossiers. When the workforce is small, one member of staff will for example attend to the situation in the host country, while another attends to relations with France. When the team is larger, it branches out and members of staff are able to specialise. Within the particular sector, each one prepares the work of the ambassador, each also acts at his particular level on the instructions of the head of post. In a multilateral mission, each official is responsible for one or more commissions. Usually the ambassador brings the team together every morning to check progress and divide up the work. The cipher office is the heart of the chancery as it dispatches the major part of the correspondence. Today encryption of telegrams- is automatic and transmission is instantaneous. It is the subsequent distribution that takes time, which is why the screen has begun to replace paper. The Archives and Documentation Centre(CAD) sends, receives and classifies all correspondence. The unencrypted mail, that is the letters (which are called "dispatches") use the diplomatic bag. The secretariat, the practical tasks of which are now lightened by information technology, perform in a foreign language what management secretaries do in French in France.

The chancery is the ambassador’s "headquarters" and the hub of the entire mission.

The consular chancery or consular section

In capital cities where there is no consulate, it also acts as an accounting department (That is to say, it collects the revenue from the post, such as visa payments, and settles expenditure). Its head is responsible for managing the embassy budget - given that, increasingly, ambassadors feel very strongly about turning their attention to the management of their post. The reforms underway tend to decentralise financial management from Paris to the individual posts. It gives heads of mission the power to authorise expenditure, giving them more flexibility in using credit, and giving them the corresponding responsibilities.