Accueil » French development aid: between contradictions and changes
Published on 30/10/2014

French development aid: between contradictions and changes

This year, for the first time in its history, France has given itself a guidance and programming law for its development and international solidarity policies. With the 2015 draft finance law currently being analysed by the French Parliament, the issue of funding for implementing this policy and in particular the freefall in public development aid are stirring up the NGOs. As a member of the Coordination SUD and Coalition Eau collectives, the Comité national pour le développement et la solidarité internationale (CNDSI – National Committee for Development and International Solidarity), and through meetings with decision-makers, GRET supports and is contributing to advocacy efforts and forward thinking on the challenges of aid (along with the Groupe Initiatives or Iddri). Between contradictions and changes, In Touch is having another look at the ongoing debates regarding French aid.

Resources which fall far short of commitments: a recurring event in France

March 2013: As the Conference on Development and International Aid was drawing to a close, François Hollande undertook to “resume an upward trajectory to reach the international objectives we have set for ourselves (…) as soon as we get back on a growth path”. This was a promise the French government made – and to which the other countries of the OECD’s Development Aid Committee were witnesses – that 0.7% of the country’s gross national revenue (GNR) would be set aside for public development aid (PDA) in 2015.

October 2014: The 2015 draft finance law is due to be put to the Council of Ministers (French government cabinet meeting). However, PDA is falling, by 2.78% for next year and 7.31% until 2017, 2015 being the year of planning for the 2015-2017 three-year period. This is not the first time that France has lowered its PDA. Yet the economic crisis is not preventing other countries such as the United Kingdom from upholding their promises, and even exceeding their commitments in favour of international solidarity (+27.8% for Britiain’s PDA in 2013, more than 0.7% of its GNR). By lowering its contribution, France will naturally lose influence in the aid system, whether it be with the OECD, the World Bank or Brussels, and will be unable to defend positions which do not follow the dominant liberal current, therefore unable to promote the interests of poor and underdeveloped countries.

The amount is not the only shortcoming with French aid. The share of the financial transactions tax (FTT) devoted to development aid should go from 15% to 25% in the same time period. Yet it will not be added on to the PDA, and some of it will even be preassigned. French PDA posts figures which are not actual development contributions such as those intended for schooling or taking in refugees. Coordination SUD estimates these incorrect figures to be around €2.7 billion (out of the €9.8 billion of French aid last year). Let us not forget either that the budget freeze set by the government at 7% for this year is not counted in the amount of PDA put before Parliament under the draft finance law.

France is also in last position among the members of the OECD’s Development Aid Committee (DAC) as regards its share of PDA channeled through NGOs, with between 1% and 2%, whereas the OECD average is 13 %. These means contradict with the fact that the guidance and programming law on development acknowledges the role played by NGOs in contributing to development research and policies. A mission which today is being undermined by a lack of funding for the structural costs of NGOs, which falls outside any project logic. The government has undertaken to multiply by two the share of PDA handled by NGOs between now and 2017.

Whereas France is in the process of giving itself a development and international solidarity policy, and will next year be hosting the Conference of the Parties on Climate Change, the amount of its aid continues to decrease when world aid on the whole is up 6%. This can only be called a major contradiction.

The use of aid: Calling into question mutilateral action and taxation

But contradictions are not restricted to arguments over amounts. Whereas the law on French development aid has designated 16 priority countries from among the most vulnerable to give a direction to its operations, only €305 million of the €9.8 billion are being granted in the form of donations for bilateral projects, i.e. 3% of the aid. The rest is being given as loans, often to middle-income countries, whereas what is needed are grants for social projects and for leverage. French and international bodies (in particular the OECD) have for years been asking France to remove this contradiction. In 2012 the Cour des Comptes (Government Accounting Office) asked for “the current preference for loans to be made consistent with the objective of concentrating aid on priority poor countries”.

This major contradiction brings up once again the issue of mobilising the financial and budget resources of the poor and underdeveloped countries, in particular of their resources founded on taxation. Indeed, the poor or fragile countries have few taxation-linked resources, whereas according to the United Nations these should correspond to at least 20% of their GDP if they hope to attain the the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In question are the rather insignificant tax bases and also tax evasion, especially by multinationals. These observations give strength to the recommendations of the NGOs making up the Groupe Initiatives in favour of a PDA “taking into account prioritarily the funding of initiatives and projects aimed at – or contributing to – strengthening States, regional and local authorities as well as the citizens”. The condition for fiscal civic-mindedness is good governance – especially financial governance – of States and government departments that PDA offers too little support to today, as was already the case yesterday. An intelligent and voluntary orientation of the resources resulting from migrants’ acceding to a life in a developed society is another crucial subject.

Lastly, concerning how aid is used, GRET notes a major contradiction in effectiveness. Today 2% of PDA is channeled through NGOs, 40% through European and multilateral institutions. Yet effectiveness is measured much more stringently regarding NGOs than international institutions. Indeed, if accountability procedures on aid use are extremely demanding on NGOs, the effectiveness of aid handled by multilateral institutions is completely underrated! Taking advantage of various meetings with the French President, the junior minister in charge of development and the National Council for Development and International Solidarity, GRET has been defending the importance of channeling bilateral PDA through NGOs, and raising awareness in France of how important it is to question the effectiveness of the multilateral agencies and funds, which should reasonably be subjected to the same demanding scrutiny as demanding as the NGOs.

Development partners: NGOs… companies?

“The traditional development partner is both the NGO and the regional/local authorities. Today we must learn to work with companies, which may also have leverage for getting involved and helping in the fight to reduce poverty, which after all is the main aim.” This declaration was made by Annick Girardin when interviewed by the RFI radio station in September. Economic diplomacy and development, the Faber-Naidoo Report on public development aid asking what place for the private sector as a development player and therefore potential beneficiary of PDA, the setting-up of a corporate social and environmental responsibility (CSER) platform under the aegis of the Prime Minister are all issues calling for a reflection on the place of the private sector in development, a hotly-debated subject since last year. And it is also a considerable preoccupation for those NGOs contributing to the debate (GRET’s representing the Groupe Initiatives on the CSER platform, GRET’s expert evaluation of CSER in Myanmar for the Foreign Affairs Ministry, etc.).

Can common ground be found between profit and the public good? The question is more than theoretical. “If economic players are able to contribute to development, the private sector’s commitment to development remains to be specified, but it cannot negate the necessity to bring public resources into action for organisations whose expertise is in international solidarity, in particular the NGOs.” This is what GRET Chairman Pierre Jacquemot reminded the French President of when the two met on 20 September to prepare the United Nations General Assembly. GRET has been working with partners from the commercial sector in both the rich and developed as well as the poor and underdeveloped countries for a very long time, and is convinced of the advantages these partnerships can provide in reducing poverty and inequalities. Likewise, GRET welcomed the creation of the CNDSI (Comité National pour le Développement et la Solidarité Internationale – National Committee for Development and International Solidarity), a multiple-player consultation forum to monitor implementation of the guidance and programming law on development, bringing together civil society, companies, public players/operators, research institutes and local authorities.

Nevertheless, the conditions must be right before NGO and company partnerships can be initiated, the commercial private sector’s commitment to development must be clearly set out, and as of this day few resources exist for supporting partnerships with private players/operators in the poor and underdeveloped countries involved notably in social entrepreneurship. Several events being held at the end of this year will enable GRET to delve deeper into the subject. One such event is the Rencontres Bondinnov on 6 November.

2015, a transition year

Whereas in France the draft finance law for 2015 defines the upper limits on PDA credits for the next three years, next year will be a key one for development, marked in particular by the appraisal of the MDGs, the defining of the now worldwide Sustainable Development Objectives (SDOs) and a new OECD accounting method for PDA. France’s PDA commitments for 2015 will therefore send out a strong signal to the international community of either commitment or conversely of contradiction with its international positioning.
In particular, whereas France will host the 21st Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (Cop 21) next year, GRET is warning of the potential impact of development budget reductions on the Fonds Français pour l’Environnement Mondial (FFEM – French World Enviroment Fund), a window for the protection of the environment and the fight against climate change in the poor and underdeveloped countries, which is coming to the end of its three-year period (€90 million over 2010-2014).

GRET will continue to invest in major subjects through its membership of collectives (Comité Climat 21, Coordination SUD, Groupe Initiatives, etc.), multi-NGO campaigns to raise the awareness of French public authorities, within the context of its various mandates, and through its participation in national cross-discipline and theme-based consultation bodies (CNDSI, CSER platform, PFVT, Gisa, etc.).
GRET, along with Groupe Initiatives, is getting involved in a brainstorming initiative on the subject of development funding. A study day, which the Ciedel will be leading on behalf of Groupe Initiatives, will be organised before the end of this year.

Further information on NGO advocacy in favour of PDA
Further information on the position of Groupe Initiatives regarding French development policy (in French)
Further information on PDA for drinking water and sanitation