French minister denies 'idle ambassadors' report

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on Wednesday dismissed a report that dozens of ambassadors were sitting in his ministry with little to do, adding that only six were awaiting a diplomatic mission.

French minister denies 'idle ambassadors' report
Last week newspaper Le Figaro quoted from a letter it had obtained in which the head of the state audit office expressed concern at the number of senior diplomats left "without an adequate assignment" for more than a few months.

The audit office found that in 2006, 127 diplomats qualified to serve as ambassadors were performing tasks well below their skill level, the newspaper reported.

The issue of underemployment in the civil service is particularly sensitive at a time when President Nicolas Sarkozy has launched a plan to rein in public spending through measures such as replacing just one in two retiring civil servants.

Diplomats have long joked about the problem of France's ageing ambassadors, who far outnumber the country's embassies and sometimes end up doing administrative work in a Paris office nicknamed "the corridor of death" or "the fridge".

In an opinion piece published in Le Figaro on Wednesday, however, Kouchner said the issue had been exaggerated.

"Enough is enough! Diplomacy is a real job," ran the headline of Kouchner's column.

"I do not want to forget this fable of the 120 ambassadors who are allegedly paid to do nothing and haunt the corridors of the Foreign Ministry," Kouchner said.

"That is untrue. There are today six of them all told who are awaiting an assignment. We would like it to be thus in all of the public administration," he added.

"The functioning of our embassies costs 93 million euros ($146.7 million), which is less than the subsidy paid by the state each year to the Paris Opera," Kouchner said, adding that he was committed to pressing ahead with reforms.

In a footnote to Kouchner's column, the newspaper said it stood by its story.
Last Mod: 09 Nisan 2008, 16:44
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