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Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
© DELFI / Audrius Solominas

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is seeking new diplomats. However, it is difficult to draw and retain educated, qualified people in the diplomatic service because starting wages are only several hundred euro above the minimum, lzinios.lt writes.

The ministry announced a competition to enter diplomatic service after an intermission of several years. While applicants are presented with high requirements – having a university or equivalent education, knowing no less than two foreign languages, being of impeccable reputation and completing a general capabilities test to match requirements needed to obtain a permit to work or review classified information and such, those who pass the competition are offered wages, which do not appear competitive.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevičius admits that while diplomatic service is appealing, often it loses competition with the private sector over capable and talented youth. Meanwhile, opposition representatives criticize the Foreign Ministry management for its failure to obtain better conditions for their diplomats and more funding.

Wages do not match requirements

The last time a competition to the Lithuanian diplomatic service was announced in 2015. As the Foreign Ministry Communication and Cultural Diplomacy Department representatives explained, competitions are announced on demand, when upon employing candidates from a formed reserve, open positions appear in the ministry.

It is stated that interest in competitions to enter diplomatic service is significant. In 2011, 300 applicants participated in the competition, in 2015 – around 250. Nevertheless, according to L. Linkevičius, while it is not difficult to interest people in working in the diplomatic service, retaining them is difficult.

"The diplomatic service requires particularly educated individuals. They exist in Lithuania and it is not difficult to interest them in diplomatic service, however it is difficult to retain them in it. Firstly, this is due to a wages, which are inadequate compared to the requirements. Unfortunately, such are the current capabilities of the state. Funds are lacking in many areas. There will always be those, who say that 636 euro for a starting diplomat is much. However, if we are to talk about drawing capable and talented youth, one can only conclude that the competition with the private sector is often lost because everyone needs capable and talented people," the foreign minister concluded.

Rank – after a year

For those employed from the reserve, the first diplomatic rank of attaché is granted after a yearlong preparatory period. It is explained that during it, final evaluations of a person's suitability for the Lithuanian diplomatic service is made. That said, the foreign minister can reduce the duration of the preparatory period to three months.

After the competition, individuals starting their work in the Foreign Ministry receive the position of an A10 category attaché. Their official wage is 636 euro (around 523 after tax). Following the preparatory period, they are granted a diplomatic rank, for which a bonus specified in legislation, is added. Currently this bonus is 239 euro before tax.

Currently the Seimas is discussing a new edition of the diplomatic service law, which, as Foreign Ministry representatives assured, outlines further notions, which will help strengthen the diplomatic service, making it more appealing.

Rotations every three years

The work of diplomats operates on the principle of rotation. Upon being accepted to the Lithuanian diplomatic service, diplomats work in the Foreign Ministry for three years (including the one-year preparatory period). Later, they are usually rotated to a diplomatic representation or consular office abroad, from where they are returned by the order of the foreign minister to the Foreign Ministry, where they work for three years again, until their next posting. Diplomats can be immediately transferred to a different diplomatic representation or consular office, however the overall duration of posting in two representations cannot exceed six years.

Currently 490 diplomats work in the Foreign ministry. 255 are working in Lithuania, while 235 – in various diplomatic representations abroad. The Foreign Ministry calculates that 10-12 individuals leave their work in the diplomatic core on their own initiative or due to various reasons every year.

Urging the minister

Seimas Foreign Affairs Committee (URK) member, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Audronius Ažubalis is discontent with the current situation. He emphasizes that today Lithuania is not under crisis conditions, the Foreign Ministry's staff do not have to go on unpaid leave and such, compared to the crisis years.

"Now such a situation can only be explained through a failure to understand the significance of the diplomatic service. The first line of defence for our country is certainly not howitzers and our excellent troops. The first line of defence for state interests is the diplomatic service. When such wages are paid and the institution's budget is the same as in previous years, I believe that the minister should be at least embarrassed and the entire government after him," the MP stated.

According to A. Ažubalis, it is unwise to hold an individual with access to state secrets on a "starvation diet", especially in terms of self-preservation because such people become vulnerable. He repeated that responsibility for the deplorable wages for diplomats falls on L. Linkevičius, who has been in charge of the Foreign Ministry for two terms.

"What does it mean to admit after six years that the agency you have been leading is on the verge of bankruptcy? Resign. I remember well former Swedish Minister of Defence Mikael Odenberg, who worked in his post for a month after the elections and upon finding out that the government of the time would not meet its commitments and will not dedicate a suitable sum to defence – resigned," the politician said.

According to A. Ažubalis, legal means, how to raise wages for diplomats, can always be sought. For example, by paying or increasing bonuses. "But what can you change when there is no money for wages, the wage fund has not set aside funding. It is not the law at fault here. The point is that there are ways to pay starting diplomats a more or less decent wage. There is no funding because it is not provided and it is not provided because there is no fight for it, no convincing. The minister is a politician, he should be fighting," the URK member criticised L. Linkevičius.