French diplomatic service is the world's best, UK says

Foreign Secretary William Hague Foreign Secretary William Hague wants Britain to have the best diplomatic service in the world

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Britain's diplomats have been told to learn lessons from the French, if they are to become the best diplomatic service in the world.

It follows advice from an external panel of advisers who told the Foreign Office that France was the best at pushing its national interest.

Top mandarin Simon Fraser told MPs France was known for supporting its economic and commercial interests.

But he said the UK had already made significant progress in this area.

Foreign Secretary William Hague has set the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) an objective of becoming the best diplomatic service in the world by 2015.

As part of its attempts to achieve this, the FCO has convened an external panel of advisers, known as the Diplomatic Excellence External Panel, to assess the department's progress and to judge how it compares with diplomatic services around the world.

The panel includes around 60 politicians, journalists and representatives from business and the NGO sector.

'Bold and imaginative'

Simon Fraser, Head of the Diplomatic Service, told the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee that in its first meeting earlier this year the panel had judged France to have the most effective diplomatic service - although the UK came second.

He said: "I think the point about the discussion of different diplomacies was the sense that French diplomacy is very good at a single-minded pursuit of a perception of the national interest.

"This is something that perhaps British diplomacy could be a bit more focused in doing, whilst also pursuing the other things such as our values agenda, human rights and these other issues.

Asked about what he thought the UK could learn from the France, Mr Fraser said the French government was judged to be "more organised in its collective support for, for example, French economic interests through diplomacy".

"That is certainly an area which we have been focusing on in the Foreign Office through our commercial diplomacy efforts and I think we have made significant achievements there."

In light of the meeting with the panel, Mr Fraser said the FCO was looking at making its policies "hard headed and focused on delivering the national interest" and more "bold and imaginative".

"There are many other good diplomatic services in the world, the French are one of them, and the important thing for us is that we can learn from them, as they can learn from us," he added.

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