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 Economic diplomacy, a priority for France

Economic diplomacy, a priority for France

Published on August 24, 2012
Article by Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius published in French newspaper "Les Echos" on August 23, 2012

In our difficult economic situation, economic diplomacy has to become a major priority for the Quai d’Orsay.

Admittedly, the government neither can nor must usurp the role of businesses, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not the only ministry involved; but it must make a strong contribution to achieving the goal set by President Hollande: to get the economy back on its feet in a fair way. Indeed, our current trade deficit – which is really the only figure we can go by – exceeds €70 billion, the last surplus dates back to 2002 and the oil price explosion does not explain everything: this situation is seriously affecting the possibility of sustainable growth.

We know that the competitiveness of “Made in France” is one of the main aspects to address. We must tackle it without taboos, particularly through the brief the Prime Minister has given Louis Gallois, a “big boss” in every sense of the term. But the issue is far broader than that. All our private and public resources must be harnessed to serve the recovery. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will play its full part.

The challenge is as much one of attaining influence as achieving growth. China, India and Brazil are now the source of half global growth! Part of our international credibility depends on our foreign trade balance. Yet while everyone recognizes that our diplomatic service, made up of excellent professionals, responds well to requests on the economic front, our mechanisms are still fragmented, the SMEs get less support than the big groups, the key link between our companies’ national bases and their international development is not always sufficiently clearly identified and the crucial issue of foreign investment in France is at times underestimated.

So our diplomatic service must considerably strengthen its “economic reflex”. Examples? Both Europe, too often naïve, and France must make it standard practice to apply the principle of reciprocity in international negotiations: is it “normal” for €312 billion’s worth of public contracts in Europe to be awarded to foreign companies, compared with only €34 billion in the United States? Is it normal for there to be so little use of “co-location”, i.e. a better coordinated development strategy between France and the Euro-Mediterranean countries? Clearly, no!

Our economic diplomacy must also be environmentally friendly. Not only because we see development as based simultaneously on economic, ecological and social pillars, but also because the French businesses specializing in sustainable development companies are among the word’s best; they must number among our flagship companies.

So in consultation with the professionals, I have drawn up an action plan which I shall present next week to all our ambassadors at the annual conference bringing them together. Our diplomatic network will now be instructed constantly to prioritize economic considerations, with specific qualitative and quantitative objectives. Every ambassador will be clearly positioned at the head of the local “France team”, supported in the main countries by an economic council. There will be greater consultation with businesses, especially when conducting trade negotiations. Resources will be stepped up in the most dynamic parts of the world: our diplomatic presence will be more in sync with global developments. Our instruments of influence (school and cultural network abroad, student scholarships and grants, scientific cooperation, visa policy, etc.) will be more closely coordinated with our economic objectives.

There will be some changes to the organization of our diplomatic service. A Quai d’Orsay directorate will be specially dedicated to business. When training our diplomats, we will accord greater value to economic skills. Our communications policy will be rethought so that businesses benefit from analysis carried out by our diplomatic network. Other concrete measures will be taken, in cooperation with businesses and their representatives, with immediate effect.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is traditionally one of peace and security, it must remain so; but it must also be business-oriented. It would be somewhat paradoxical for the Quai d’Orsay, a crisis specialist, not to give priority to mobilizing to confront the economic crisis: we will do so.
By supporting companies to defend our jobs and create new ones, we will serve our country, with them and through them. It’s a major task which I now assign to our diplomatic service./.

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