[INTERVIEW] François Delattre, art of diplomacy and memories from almost 20 years posted in North America

2019-07-25

We recently spoke [june 2019] with Francois Delattre, French ambassador to the UN and a Sciences Po alumnus. He provided his thoughts on the art of diplomacy and memories from almost 20 years posted in North America before he returns to Paris as secretary general of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

Francois Delattre, France’s ambassador to the United Nations, tells guests they have two choices—ooh or ahh—just before he walks them into his 44th floor midtown office.

The reason becomes apparent when they enter the room. The Sciences Po alum’s place of work is wedged into the corner of a building overlooking the East River, and when he opens the door windows along two sides of the space flood the hall with light, revealing a panoramic view of Manhattan stretching east past the UN headquarters and the river and extending downtown. Even on an overcast day, the clouds hover amidst the tips of skyscrapers, and the Chrysler Building might yet remain visible.  

Delattre will have a new place of work this month, when he moves to Paris following his appointment as the secretary general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That role is France’s highest ranking diplomatic position after president and foreign minister. 

His promotion caps off 20 years (16 years consecutively) spent working in France’s diplomatic corps at posts in North America. 

“I enjoyed every minute of my time in North America,” he said. Delattre’s diplomatic career on the continent kicked off with four years at the head of the press office at the French Embassy in Washington. After serving as consul general in New York then French ambassador to Canada, he was appointed ambassador to the United States in 2011 before being named ambassador to the United Nations in 2014. 

“The diplomatic service is a calling for me, a vocation,” he said. This vocation came to him at a young age, playing with a globe despite no family tradition of working in diplomacy. At 18 years old, set on becoming a diplomat, he went to Sciences Po, then ENA, the National School of Administration. 

Delattre calls himself a “great fan of Sciences Po” and believes that his academic training prepared him well for a career in diplomacy. The school’s real advantage, from his perspective, is its interdisciplinary approach. This is a critical skill today, especially at the UN Security Council, where people need to find original solutions to complex problems. As important as it has been for decades, he believes the ability to adapt to new challenges and connect different fields of knowledge is more important than ever in the context of our current geopolitical challenges.  

He leaves the United States with a “friendly, bipartisan appeal to all his American friends.” In a recent New York Times op-ed, he argued that in “a world that is growing more dangerous and less predictable by the day,” the engagement of the United States in world affairs and multilateral institutions is more important than ever. “America can’t make it alone, and the world can’t make it without America.” 

Delattre hopes that his time at the UN suggests the possibility of a better path. Many people believe that a diplomat’s job is merely to defend and promote the narrow interests of his country. But Delattre is emphatic that this is only the first part of the job. The diplomat’s role is increasingly one that requires coalition building to solve crises, promote human rights, and fight climate change—which he singled out as one of the most daunting challenges facing humanity. To that end, he established a regular dialogue with institutional investors which contributed to the launch of the Climate Action 100+ Initiative, mobilizing investors behind the Paris Climate Accord’s goal of promoting a path toward a low carbon economy. 

Economic integration through educational exchanges also contributes to sound diplomatic relations, according to Delattre, who supported the development of the Alliance program and the reinforcement of Sciences Po’s North American partnerships. He thinks that the internationalization of the school has only strengthened its competitive advantage. During his time as ambassador to Washington he made the development of university partnerships one of his top priorities, considering that this is one of the best ways to reinforce the relationship between France and the United States. 

That bond is embodied by the Statue of Liberty, which, Delattre wrote in the Times, “remains to this day the best ambassador of the American dream.”

For all that he can see from his office, that symbol of America’s promise stands too far to the south, obscured by the financial district. Construction on Second Avenue and helicopters carrying high-powered executives provide plenty to marvel at instead. 

“It’s New York. It’s never the same view, color,” Delattre said.