The Consul General of Greece in New York, Constantinos Koutras. Photo via MFA Greece
The room was frigid cold. So was the reception with only one person behind a well-shielded office. Electronic messages appearing on my screen. A virtual assistant is greeting me with a funny face. Is anyone there? My God, it is a foreign Consulate in New York I just entered. Isn’t it supposed to be crowded? Am I in one of Kafka’s bureaucratic nightmares?
No, I have just entered a Consulate in New York, ushering in a new era in diplomatic services. Step 1: Use the virtual assistant to get your answer in matters of legislation Step 2: Use platforms to submit your paperwork instead of bringing us dusty binders Step 3: Have your certificate mailed to you.
We often admit that the pandemic accelerated digital progress in various sectors of our everyday activity. Bureaucracy is a kingdom where stagnation has taken inertia to a whole new level. Therefore, if it is not that, then what? If it is not now, then when?
Digital services will change institutions which have survived through the centuries. In ancient times, ambassadors were jack of all trades and skillful masters of…many. They served a variety of roles, reported events to their own country, negotiated and promoted commercial ties as well. The job description is not very much different today. Modern digital tools will certainly enhance the work of a diplomat and help representatives focus on more substantial issues such as building bridges with the community, instead of rupturing them over a bad stamp on one’s passport.
New York has 118 diplomatic missions in the city. During COVID very few were servicing their public. At the same time, demand for a passport other than the American one, pushed New Yorkers into the arms of foreign Consulates based on one’s family’s roots. Foreign missions, especially European ones were inundated with requests for citizenship and of course (stop beating around the bush)…a second passport.
Only the Consulates able to adapt to the new digital environment could keep up with increasing demand. It seems that government entities are not much different than private sector companies as they both offer services to citizens (or consumers…depending on your approach to public participation). That is of course an exaggeration, but also a poignant satire to encourage governments to invest more in an effective digital upgrade.
*Did I forget to mention which country’s Consulate I visited? It was the Consulate of Greece in New York. Who would have thought (right)?