On 17 March Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier discussed the future of the foreign service with over 200 young Germans of different origins. In the future, the Federal Foreign Office wants to better reflect the increasing diversity of modern German society and be more open to applicants of migrant origin. Steinmeier stated that the Federal Foreign Office in particular should act as a mirror of our society.
“In fact this event shouldn’t even be taking place,” said State Secretary Stephan Steinlein by way of opening at the information day on the topic of “A global us: more diversity in the foreign service” at the Federal Foreign Office on Tuesday morning (17 March). For, according to Steinlein, it was a given that the Federal Foreign Office was open to everyone who was interested in foreign policy and could imagine representing Germany abroad.
And yet, the fact that Germany was a country of immigration and that this “would naturally have consequences for an institution as time-honoured as the Federal Foreign Office” was far from a matter of course, said Steinlein. “That’s why this event, which shouldn’t actually need to take place, is indeed necessary and perhaps even overdue.”
Open to applicants with a migrant background
There was agreement on this from the over 200 participants of the event jointly organised by the Federal Foreign Office, the association DeutschPlus and the German Foundation for Integration – two institutions which work to promote diversity in Germany. The aim of the information day was to make potential candidates with a migration background aware of opportunities for professional development in the foreign service. At the same time, the guests were invited to form working groups to talk about possible approaches to boosting diversity in the foreign service and about the Federal Foreign Office’s image.
In an ensuing panel discussion the participants had the chance to present the results of their working groups and to discuss them with Foreign Minister Steinmeier. Mina Bahai, chair of the working group on the Federal Foreign Office’s image named one of the key challenges: The Federal Foreign Office was so widely seen as elitist, as a predominantly German closed shop, that it didn’t occur to many people to apply there in the first place. Moreover there was a lack of role models, i.e. young diplomats of migrant origin who could offer an insight into their everyday working life.
The Federal Foreign Office as a mirror of society
There are already some such role models, but they do not yet sufficiently reflect the growing diversity of modern German society. “Yet it is in particular the Federal Foreign Office that should act as a mirror of our society,” said Foreign Minister Steinmeier, underlining that: “It’s not just foreign language skills that matter. We need curious people who can empathise with other countries and cultures.” The Federal Foreign Office had to actively seek to reach potential applicants who did not yet feel targeted, he went on to say.
Intercultural skills and preparedness to work anywhere around the world
The pre-requisites were in part already there, stated State Secretary Steinlein: through the rotation system alone, in the Federal Foreign Office the staff were constantly moving between Germany and abroad. Many members of staff themselves were married to people from other countries, their children were growing up speaking several languages and partly abroad. Mixed identities thus played a role in many families. Nevertheless applicants needed to be prepared to work all around the world – not only the country where their own roots originally lay.
Steinlein voiced his hope that the event would be successful and would help to make the Federal Foreign Office more open to people of migrant origin, too. “Then, hopefully, in a few years, an event like this really will be superfluous.”