Presidential candidates too cautious on development pledges

French presidential election candidate for the far-left coalition La France insoumise Jean-Luc Melenchon shakes hands with French presidential election candidate for the left-wing French Socialist party Benoit Hamon prior to a debate organized by French private TV channels BFM TV and CNews. [Lionel Bonaventure/Pool/EPA]

Most of the candidates for Sunday’s (23 April) presidential election in France have made inadequate commitments on development aid. Just five of the 11 presidential hopefuls say they would boost spending to meet the OECD target of 0.7% of GNI. EURACTIV France reports.

As France prepares to head to the polls, the country’s development NGOs have painted a mixed picture of the programmes put forward by the candidates.

The NGOs Action Aid France – Peuples Solidaires, CCFD-Terre Solidaire, Oxfam France and Secours Catholique – Caritas France published their analysis of all 11 election candidates and the quality of their pledges in the area of international solidarity.

Based on 15 proposals aimed at improving French development policy, this analysis focused on issues such as tax evasion, ending the use of fossil fuels, solidarity with migrants and women’s rights.

Development still a non-issue in French election

Three of the top five candidates for the French presidency have said they will boost development spending to meet the international target of 0.7% of gross national income (GNI). But not all agree on what this spending should cover. EURACTIV France reports.

All of the measures laid out by the NGOs respond to the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were adopted by the UN in 2015.

French development chief: ‘SDGs apply to France in same way as Burkina Faso’

Development agencies have to change their dualist approach to Africa, as it does not correspond to the reality the continent is facing, the head of the French Development Agency told EURACTIV France.

“Insignificant”

The question of development financing received particular scrutiny, after a presidential mandate marked by harsh cuts in France’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget, pushed through by Manuel Valls’ government.

“It is vital to leave behind the 20% cut in development aid credits that this mandate will be remembered for,” said Nicolas Vercken, a spokesman for Oxfam France.

According to the NGO One, just four candidates have made promises that would fulfil the 0.7% target by 2022: Benoît Hamon, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Jacques Cheminade and Philippe Poutou.

Frontrunner Emmanuel Macron has promised to reach 0.7% by 2025, with an intermediary goal of 0.55% by 2022.

While France still figures among the major international donor countries, it is a long way from meeting its commitments. The share of gross national income allocated to development fell from 0.45% in 2012 to 0.38% in 2016.

More solidarity in migration policy

But the main concern raised by the NGOs is the possibility that the next president may dig into the ODA budget to fund services related to migration. A trend that is becoming increasingly common in Europe.

New report warns on ‘creative accounting’ diverting aid to housing refugees within EU

A major new report has warned that there are no strict guidelines on how EU member states divert parts of their development aid budgets to helping and housing refugees within their own countries, rather than spending it abroad.

Right-wing Republican candidate François Fillon supports the inclusion of spending on the refugee crisis under France’s development aid column.

National Front leader Martine Le Pen is less direct. In her programme she speaks of a “policy of co-development with African countries based mainly on aid to primary schools, the improvement of agricultural systems and the strengthening of defence and security tools”.

Security

“A large number of candidates are proposing security-based policies. […] Development aid linked to the control of migration flows, the abolition of medical state aid, the outsourcing of European border control… these are all measures that fail to build sustainable solutions,” said Emilie Johann from Secours Catholique – Caritas France.

For his part, Macron believes “the EU can welcome in all those in search of a better life”, and emphasises the responsibility of the countries of origin in managing their own borders.

EU aid an ineffective tool to end the migration crisis

Member states have deployed their development aid budgets to tackle the root causes of the migration crisis. But the effectiveness of these programmes in stemming the flow of migrants to the EU has yet to be seen. EURACTIV France reports.

Another concern is the fight against tax evasion and, more broadly, the regulation of the global financial system. NGOs estimate that tax evasion costs developing countries around €100 billion every year.

“This deprives fragile states of vital resources that could be used to build public services, tackle rampant inequality and guarantee the rights of women,” said Lison Rehbinder from Action Aid France – Peuples Solidaires.