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POLITICS

France hopes for better relations with new Italian government

France is hoping for more constructive relations with Italy's new pro-European government, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Sunday.

France hopes for better relations with new Italian government
Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

“This government appears more… determined to have positive relations with France, more open also to implementing shared migratory policies,” Le Drian told French radio stations.

“We are ready to talk about it,” he added.

Italy's new coalition between the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and centre-left Democratic Party (PD) was sworn in last Thursday.

The former coalition between Matteo Salvini's far-right League party and the M5S headed by Luigi Di Maio was hostile to Paris in its 14 months in government.

Salvini accused French President Emmanuel Macron of showing “arrogance” and “hypocrisy” on immigration matters.

Le Drian said Sunday he has written to Di Maio, his new counterpart appointed last week. “I hope we will have more constructive relations with Italy,” Le Drian said.

“Everyone sees there is a new deal, that we are no longer trading insults and posturing. We are willing to act together within the European Union,” the French minister said.

Asked about the political fate of Salvini, who caused the collapse of the previous Italian government, Le Drian said: “There are times when some politicians, as we have seen with Mr. Salvini, see themselves as stronger than they are, and they make mistakes.”

“I'm not sure (Salvini) will return to power”, he added.

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POLITICS

French diplomats to strike over ‘avalanche’ of reforms

French diplomats are to strike next month for only the second time in their history, protesting an "avalanche" of reforms that unions say are undermining the foreign service at a time of global tensions.

French diplomats to strike over 'avalanche' of reforms

“The Quai d’Orsay is disappearing little by little,” read a statement from six staff unions, using a familiar name for the French foreign ministry’s headquarters on the south bank of the Seine in central Paris.

The main complaint is a reform to career structures which will see the special status accorded to the most senior diplomats scrapped from next year, unions say.

“These measures dismantling our diplomatic service make no sense at a time when war has returned in Europe,” their joint statement said.

Under changes championed by President Emmanuel Macron, and rushed through by decree in April, top foreign service officials would lose their special protected status and be absorbed in a larger pool of elite public sector workers.

This could mean France’s roughly 700 most senior diplomats being asked to join other ministries and facing competition from non-diplomats for top postings.

“We’re very worried,” one serving diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity. “We’re not interchangeable. I have the utmost respect for my colleagues in other state services but I don’t know how to do their job and they don’t know how to do mine.”

The strike has been called for June 2nd.

France has the third-biggest foreign service in the world after China and the United States, with around 14,000 employees at the foreign ministry in total.

The vast majority of these are non-diplomats or people on local contracts in countries around the world.

The aim of the government shake-up is to encourage more mobility between state services, which have historically been divided up into separate units with rules and job protections that make moving between them very difficult.

The government is also keen to attract new, more diverse candidates to the diplomatic service by opening new routes to the ministry, but critics see a danger of political interference.

“The door is now open to American-style nominations,” former ambassador to Washington and vocal critic of the reform, Gerard Araud, tweeted last month.

American ambassadors are named by the president, who often uses the power to reward political allies and donors with plum foreign postings.

The last and only strike by French diplomats was in 2003 to push for pay increases.

The stoppage on June 2nd underlines “the real malaise in the ministry, which does not have a rebellious culture,” Olivier da Silva from the CFTC union said.

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