THE contrasting styles of the diplomatic services of Britain and France were in evidence last week. French embassies were closed around the world and staff at the Quai d'Orsay in Paris held protest meetings over budget cuts and staff shortages. The trade unions involved issued a statement questioning whether President Chirac's ambitions for France on the world stage can be achieved without additional funding and resources. In London, meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw presented his statement on the objectives for the next ten years of the UK diplomatic service. Entitled UK International Priorities: A Strategy for the FCO this 60-page document sets out the nitty-gritty reality of the tasks facing Britain's diplomats in 223 embassies and high commissions. Most of the priority tasks overseas are a direct reflection of the priorities of the government at home terrorism, illegal immigration, drugs and crime. In a foreword to the document Mr Straw writes: Foreign affairs are no longer really foreign. The FCO and its embassies support many domestic policy objectives. He might have added that many of the FCO's current concerns are those he had responsibility for when he was Home Secretary. Trade, in the sense of intelligence and on-the-spot support for British exporters, has long been an FCO priority and remains so; international development is also identified as an important function. Old-fashioned diplomacy still has its place - maintaining contacts, keeping eyes open and ears to the ground, spotting trends and straws in the wind. It is suprising, but encouraging, that in his overview of Britain's diplomatic stance Mr Straw puts the United Nations at the top of his priorities and says, It sets the framework for international law. No state - not even the US - will be able to pursue its objectives in isolation.
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