Three European countries, three ways to train diplomats

How to become a diplomat in Europe? While the senior civil service reform project is of concern to the Quai d’Orsay, we present the situation of three countries with different traditions.

  • In the UK, the Foreign Office “Oxbridge itself”

Members of the British diplomatic corps are often seen as a separate and carefully selected elite. There is a very ‘Oxbridge’ atmosphere [Oxford-Cambridge], with a lot of networks”, explains a former employee who requests anonymity and would prefer a college job. He points out that starting salaries are very low (around 35,000 euros per year) and that it often takes a decade before getting your first job abroad: “It attracts those who already have money.”

To enter the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, especially the prestigious “Fast Broadcast”, assigned to the best items, it is generally necessary to participate in the competition organized by the Civil Service Bureau. This is common to the entire public service for written exams, but is separated between officials and diplomats at the level of oral interviews.

Candidates come from a group slightly larger than those in France, notes Peter Ricketts, the former British ambassador to Paris, who has spent his entire career at the Foreign Office: “Because there is no ENA-type preparation system in place, applicants either come directly from universities or apply several years after another career.”

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Another way to formally enter the diplomatic service is to get a job at the State Department that is hired by simple application, to work there for two years, and then apply for an official position.

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The State Department has been under significant budgetary pressure for a decade to lower the wage bill. Abroad, more and more jobs are being created by local hiring, not expatriates. And if there is no start window like this, many will not get the promotion they want or the job they are applying for, and eventually, they end up leaving.

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  • In Spain, a poorly accepted reform project

In Spain there is only one course to become a diplomat: the very traditional Spanish Diplomatic School (ED), founded in 1942. It is entered by means of a competitive examination, and for this you need a university degree. The number of places varies depending on the needs of the Department of State. Only 37 places were called up in 2021, and 35 in 2020.

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