German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock gives a statement to the press after her visit to the transmission system operator company "50Hertz" in Neuenhagen, near Berlin, eastern Germany, on July 20, 2022. (Photo by John MACDOUGALL / AFP)

After a reform of the recruitment tests for the Foreign Office (AA), the Union fears for the quality of German diplomats. Representatives of the CDU and CSU therefore smell “green nepotism” in the house led by Annalena Baerbock (Greens). The foreign policy spokesman for the Union faction, Jürgen Hardt (CDU), told the Tagesspiegel that Germany had “one of the best diplomatic services in the world”. This is the result of a recognized selection process.

“Anyone who represents Germany in the world must be well educated and suitable,” demanded the CDU politician: “Particularly in a confusing global situation, the high standards of the selection of diplomats must not be honed under any circumstances.” Otherwise the Foreign Minister risked “a weakening of her most important instrument “, in order to have a lasting effect abroad beyond government consultations.

Hardt continues: “It would be fatal if, after the dubious promotion of lobbyist Jennifer Morgan to State Secretary without diplomatic experience, the reputation of our diplomatic service under Baerbock was further questioned.” Morgan was previously Managing Director of Greenpeace.

The parliamentary secretary of the Union faction, Thorsten Frei (CDU), warned in the “Bild” newspaper: “The minister must be careful not to ridicule her supposedly feminist foreign policy.”

The AA is the only department that requires 12 months of in-house training for candidates for the post, apart from military personnel in the Department of Defense who have completed the Joint Chiefs of Staff training.

This ensures esprit de corps and also a pronounced self-confidence of many diplomats, who have to go through a strict selection process. Around 90 are to be accepted this year, in 2021 1600 applications were received. The participants in a training year (“crew”) get to know each other well and often remain closely connected throughout their careers.

In fact, under Baerbock’s leadership, the AA has now, at least temporarily, abolished the general education test feared by applicants, as well as the psychological aptitude test. The background was also the discrimination against women, who should and should be promoted according to the will of the minister and her predecessor Heiko Maas (SPD). The proportion of women in management positions at the Foreign Ministry is currently 24 percent.

With the abolition of two test procedures, which was initially planned as a pilot project and has therefore not yet been finally decided, the Federal Foreign Office has increased the importance of subject tests in the subjects of politics, law, economics and history. The evaluation of a written analysis requested by them and intensive selection interviews also contribute to the assessment of the applicants. When selecting personnel, the Federal Foreign Office has also set itself the goal of social diversity, but does not want to lower standards for this.

The Union’s dealings with the Foreign Minister are not free of contradictions. Foreign politicians from the CDU and CSU have repeatedly attested to the good performance of the Greens in the Bundestag and even called on Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) to follow their example in this context. The Union also recognized that Baerbock and other Green Party representatives advocated the delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine earlier and more decisively than large parts of the SPD.

On the other hand, representatives of the Union, such as Thorsten Frei, keep working on Baerbock’s commitment to the concept of a “feminist foreign policy”. Group leader Friedrich Merz (CDU) had warned in March in the Bundestag that the 100 billion euros for the Bundeswehr should not be invested in a “feminist foreign policy”. At the time, Merz said with a derogatory gesture: “You can do feminist foreign policy, feminist development aid policy, you can do everything, but not with this budget for the Bundeswehr.”

However, the concept has long been established in the professional world and is also defended by the head of the Munich Security Conference, Christoph Heusgen, who was foreign policy advisor to Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) for a long time.

Thinking about higher service that doesn’t just represent certain social groups started in AA long before Baerbock. In her farewell speech in January 2014, the then State Secretary Emily Haber, who is now the Ambassador in Washington, complained about “foreign policy behavior”, called for the service to be opened up to lateral entrants and called for the AA to “waive the string of pearls of post sequences in the domestic environment”.

German-American political scientist Cathryn Clüver-Ashbrook defended the Foreign Secretary’s approach. Diplomacy research shows that aptitude tests, some of which were developed in their structure 30 years ago, have a bias: “They prefer certain groups of applicants over the long term,” she told the Tagesspiegel.

Clüver Ashbrook set up the “Future of Diplomacy” project at the Harvard Kennedy School together with the US diplomat and his country’s ambassador to Beijing, Nicholas Burns. The aim was to prepare a new generation of diplomats for a changed world situation, not only in the USA but worldwide.

According to the foreign policy expert, many Western foreign ministries, including the State Department in Washington and the Quai d’Orsay in Paris, are currently undergoing staff restructuring. “In order to meet the challenges of the 21st century – climate change, fighting pandemics, migration crises, scarcity of resources – you need new, specially qualified and, above all, diverse staff to solve these problems,” said Clüver Ashbrook.

And further: “In the diverse perspective – more women, more qualified candidates with other qualifications (e.g. with a technological background for data and digitally supported foreign policy), with a migration background, etc. – lie the new approaches to holistic foreign policy.”

Many departments have concluded that their proficiency tests filter for “equality” rather than capacity. “These need to be modernized and adapted so that new attaché cohorts don’t just consist of white, male lawyers, for example,” she recommended. Clüver Ashbrook was director of the German Council on Foreign Relations and is now a non-resident fellow at the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPI) in Berlin.

The AA’s announcement to suspend the psychological aptitude test this year is “a sign that the ministry wants to reconsider the procedures in the medium term and introduce new aptitude tests aimed at gaining new perspectives and new qualifications for the ministry”. It is “in no way about a reduction in quality”.