The Permanent Representations of the Council of Europe member states in Strassburg are headed by Permanent Representatives, i.e. ambassadors, who are either political appointees of their respective governments, or career-diplomats and as such members of the diplomatic corps of their country.
Career-diplomats are normally staff members of the Foreign Office. They usually hold a university degree and then go through diplomatic training either before or after having joined the diplomatic service, depending on the system.
Diplomats only stay in the same place for an average of 3 years before they are relocated – to a different job in a different country with a different language and different customs. At regular intervals, diplomats are assigned leading positions within their own Foreign Office for a couple of years in order to stay in touch with everyday life in their home countries, before being sent abroad again.
Due to this lifestyle, which requires an exceptional personal and professional adaptability, diplomats tend to become high-level all-rounders.
The diplomats at a Permanent Representation to the Council of Europe
The tasks of the diplomats working at a Permanent Representation are manifold. Here are some examples:
- with the aim of finding a consensus, the diplomats represent the national interests of their countries towards the other 46 member states
the diplomats report continuously on the latest political developments in the other member states and provide their authorities with any information they might require
- the diplomats assist experts and other visitors from their countries visiting the Council of Europe
- they hold informal meetings with experts both from their countries and the Council of Europe on various areas of expertise in order to be able to present the position of their country in an expert manner
- the diplomats supervise the execution of the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights
based on their comprehensive reporting, the diplomats check the activities of the various monitoring instruments of the Council of Europe and examine the progress made
- the diplomats attend meetings, manage joint projects between their authorities and the Council of Europe and provide the media, NGOs and other interested parties with information about the Council of Europe and its activities
- in cooperation with their authorities, the diplomats prepare working papers and present proposals regarding the further development of the Council of Europe, its bodies and instruments and their activities to the other 46 member states
The most valuable commodity in diplomacy is information. This is the reason why a diplomat’s working day goes on after hours at countless receptions and formal dinners, where the same people talk about the same topics that were discussed during their meetings.
It is sometimes easier, though, to reach an agreement during a one-to-one meeting or while talking things over in a small group. Besides, during these social gatherings the diplomats get to know each other better, and that, in turn, can be helpful for reaching a consensus later on, while officially negotiating.
So, even if the picture of a diplomat holding a cocktail glass is well-known, and the cliché suggests a situation of relaxation, it is, in fact, intensive multilateral networking: A core task of diplomatic work and as such most interesting but also sometimes challenging after a hard day’s work.
Photos © Stéfanie Trautweiler