‘On the Manner of Negotiating with Princes’’, was written by Francois de Callieres, the distinguished French diplomat in the court of Louis XlV. Although de Callieres’s book was first published in 1716, it may offer us some very useful insight into what may be happening in the various EU capitals today in the Brexit negotiations. Theresa May has made a tremendous diplomatic effort to side line Michel Barnier, the official EU negotiator, by personally visiting such personalities as the French Prime Minister, Emmanuel Macron, and sending her ministers on similar diplomatic missions to other EU capitals. The object was to secure a number of concessions which Mr Barnier was not prepared to budge on. It was an effort to go over Mr Barnier’s head or to divide the UK’s opponents. Mrs May’s diplomatic offensive was based on this policy of achieving her ends by way of bilateral talks rather than dealing with Mr Barnier directly.
The extent of this direct diplomatic mission by Mrs. May to European capitals can be seen from a reported 843 flights taken to EU capitals by her officials over the last year at the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU). But Mr Barnier counteracted, and was also on the move. He too personally visited every EU capital over this same period, as well as receiving a constant flow of diplomats at his office in Brussels. The result was that the 27 EU members are still strongly supporting their chief negotiator, the Frenchman, Mr Barnier.
But also the question arises, what makes a good emissary? For a start, Francois de Callieres gives us some pointers as to the personal qualities needed to be a good diplomat.
We need to acquire the esteem, friendship and confidence of those we are negotiating with. There is no surer way, according to De Callieres, of becoming personally agreeable than by basing these friendships on mutual advantage and respect. “It is marvellous”, writes De Callieres, “how a persona grata may contrive to uproot even the deepest suspicions and wipe out the memory of the deepest insults”.
On an interpersonal level too, as de Callieres suggests, we expect a politician to project a strong image of certainty and sound character. We expect him or her to communicate with an intent that we can rely on. This entails diplomats or politicians communicating their messages with personal ‘gravitas’.
Now, we must ask, do Mrs May, Jeremy Hunt, the new Foreign Secretary, and Dominic Raab, the new Brexit Secretary meet De Callieres’ criteria when they tried to undermind Michel Barnier?
Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary speaking on the BBC and Sky News Programmes, on visiting the French Prime Minister, certainly didn’t appear to fit Mr Callieres’ criteria. Likewise Mrs May, after her visit to President Macron at his Fort de Bregancon residence on the Cote D’Azur, did not give the impression of succeeding to persuade the President against Mr Barnier’s position. These moves by May were an effort to substitute bilateral talks for direct negotiations with Mr Barnier, who has the support of the 27 EU members. Not exactly the way to build trust with your negotiating partner, is it?