A network of diplomats and officials abroad
Published on 2 July 2021
Did you know that the Egmont Institute in Brussels organises training courses for foreign diplomats and officials? As such, it contributes to better governance abroad. At the same time, it creates an important network of contacts, which FPS Foreign Affairs makes grateful use of.
EGMONT – The Royal Institute for International Relations is an independent think tank housed in the Egmont Palace in Brussels. There, it conducts pioneering research on all kinds of subjects related to foreign affairs: politics, but also defence, terrorism, climate and energy, etc.
At the same time, the Egmont Institute is closely linked historically and financially to the FPS Foreign Affairs. For example, since 2014, it has been organising short training courses for foreign diplomats and officials on behalf of our FPS. ‘It all started with a request from the then-Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Reynders,’ says Julie Godin, Director of Training at the Egmont Institute. ‘He wanted training for 9 diplomats from DR Congo and Congo Brazzaville.’
The tone was set right away. Such training not only improves the capacity of foreign diplomats, it also creates a network of contacts in the respective ministries. Godin: ‘Everything happens in a very amicable atmosphere. And it's a nice gift when a minister on a mission in a friendly country can offer training.’
Training on negotiation
Diplomacy in practice & administrative elite
The Egmont Institute currently organises 7-8 training courses per year. The main module deals with ‘diplomacy in practice’. The exchange of good diplomatic practice stands central, but participants also get a thorough insight into Belgian institutions, diplomacy, culture and history. They learn who they can contact at FPS Foreign Affairs on various topics and they visit Belgian and international institutions, such as the Belgian Federal Parliament, the European External Action Service (EEAS) and NATO headquarters. Other modules include strategic and crisis communication, mediation, negotiation and European affairs.
‘In addition, we want to strengthen the administrative elite in a number of countries too,’ says Godin. ‘To this end, we have a collaboration agreement with the National Schools of Administration (Écoles Nationale d'Administration or ENA) in Mali, DR Congo and Guinea. The students carry out internships at the Belgian federal institutions. Here, too, an important side effect is the development of a network.’
Such a network has certainly proven useful already. ‘When we organised the first training in 2014, there were a few tricky cases with Congo, particularly adoption and the Belgian schools. It then turned out that one of the participants was monitoring those cases. We had a direct contact right away to get our message across and get things unblocked!’
‘Another example was last year, when the ENA trainees couldn't come to Brussels because of the coronavirus crisis. We therefore selected the 2 best interns for a 3-month internship at the Belgian Embassy in Kinshasa. One of the interns is currently working at the administration of the Congolese President. Extremely useful!’
The Belgian Generic Training for Civilian Crisis Management
For the sake of completeness, we should also mention a third section of training, namely the management of civil crises. ‘The European Union, for example, regularly calls for participation in foreign missions to deal with civil crises. We provide compulsory basic training – the so-called Belgian Generic Training – for Belgians who apply to take part in such missions. The participants come from the FPS Justice and Foreign Affairs and from the police. But there are also externals, including retired soldiers.’
In 2020, the courses continued online by necessity. In the end, however, 241 foreign diplomats, alumni and officials had training. No less than 214 participants came from Sub-Saharan Africa: Mali, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Mauritius, Madagascar, Ethiopia, Senegal, Angola, etc. Admittedly, the preference remains for training in person. However, it is possible that the participants will continue to be coached online after the training in the future. Since 2014, 1,091 people have now been trained.
Godin believes it is more of a coincidence that so many people from Sub-Saharan Africa are participating. ‘We started in Africa and the Sub-Saharan Africa department at Foreign Affairs showed a lot of interest. But we've also trained diplomats from Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Arabian Peninsula. We haven't been at it that long; it could still go in plenty of directions.’