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A change of role – life as an exchange diplomat

Exchange diplomats are colleagues of ours who do a very special job for a certain period of time – they are seconded to another ministry of foreign affairs, where they work in a team like any other team member. But how do you become an exchange diplomat? What are the long-term benefits for both sides? And what interesting differences are there in the ways the ministries work?

It all started at a Franco-German summit almost 30 years ago, when the two countries agreed to send diplomats on temporary secondments to each other’s ministry of foreign affairs. “The exchange programme with France is not only the longest-standing, but also the largest,” says Bettina Fanghänel of the Federal Foreign Office’s Personnel Division. 

Bettina, who is responsible for the exchange diplomats, points out that "it stands to reason that we do this type of exchange with close partners, such as EU or NATO members."

How do you become an exchange diplomat?

Michael Hyll, an exchange diplomat from the Czech Republic

Michael Hyll, an exchange diplomat from the Czech Republic
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Michael Hyll, an exchange diplomat from the Czech Republic

Michael Hyll, an exchange diplomat from the Czech Republic

Michael Hyll, an exchange diplomat from the Czech Republic

The system works in both directions. The Federal Foreign Office hosts exchange diplomats from countries including France, Poland, the Czech Republic, the United States and Switzerland – and in return, some of our colleagues work abroad, for example in the British, Netherlands, French or US ministries of foreign affairs. 

Officially, the German diplomats are posted to the local German Embassy, but they work in and report to their host country’s ministry of foreign affairs, usually for a period of one year.

A wide range of jobs

"We definitely have the most exchanges with EU partner countries," Bettina Fanghänel says. "After the eastward enlargement of the EU in 2004, countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic also expressed great interest in the programme." 

The exchange is often reciprocal, but this is not a must. In the case of the United States, it is run via the Transatlantic Diplomatic Fellowship (TDF) programme, which fosters the exchange of diplomats with EU and NATO member states.

The EU presidency is a particularly interesting time

Dutch diplomat Aino Jansen as an exchange diplomat in Berlin

Dutch diplomat Aino Jansen as an exchange diplomat in Berlin
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Dutch diplomat Aino Jansen as an exchange diplomat in Berlin

Dutch diplomat Aino Jansen as an exchange diplomat in Berlin

Dutch diplomat Aino Jansen as an exchange diplomat in Berlin

“Interest in the exchange usually arises from the main issues in bilateral relations,” says Bettina Fanghänel. “But periods like the presidency of the Council of the EU, which will be held by the Netherlands in the first half of 2016, are also particularly interesting.” A diplomat from the Netherlands worked at the Federal Foreign Office in 2014 and 2015 during Germany’s presidency of the G7. And next year, when Germany holds the chairmanship of the OSCE, as many as five exchange diplomats, from Switzerland, Poland, Austria, France and the Netherlands, will work in the Task Force for the OSCE Chairmanship.

Demand is growing

The programme will be expanded in the future to include countries such as Norway and Brazil. 

The reports by German exchange diplomats after they return home show clearly that they greatly value the experience of "seeing diplomacy from another side” and the opportunity to compare working methods. A colleague from Poland also recalls "being welcomed with open arms from the start in Berlin".

On the following pages, you can find out more about some of our exchange diplomats and the subtle differences that make day-to-day life in the host ministry of foreign affairs a very special experience.


Last updated 23.10.2015

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