French overseas aid reshuffled after budget cuts

  
French Senat
French Senate [Sénat Sénat/Flickr)

The new French legislation on development aid policy aims to create a unique structure to oversee the country's international technical expertise. Budget cuts mean government will shift emphasis to “coherence and efficiency,” EurActiv France reports.

The new act on "development policy and international solidarity" was passed by a large majority in the French Senate on May 27.

The law, which had already been approved by Parliament in February, outlines French policies on development at a time when public funding for development aid is under great financial pressure.

In 2010, French development aid fell by almost 10% according to figures published by the OECD's Development Assistance Committee. The downward trend is unlikely to change this year, as the French state maintains efforts to cut spending.

Budget cuts

The new law contains no mention of the budgetary framework, something that has drawn criticism from many members of the National Assembly, the French Parliament.

"We know for a fact that the budget will decrease this year and next year," said Annick Girardin, French Secretary of state for Development and Francophonie. In light of recent budget cuts, the legislation aims to shift the emphasis to "coherence and efficiency," she said.

The law adopted by the Senate focuses on priority countries where France sends most of its aid - mostly Sub-Saharan and North African countries, which will receive 85% of French development aid.

The big thematic priorities, like tackling poverty and inequalities, climate change, promoting peace, human rights and gender equality, are all featured in the new law.

One novelty will consist in easing the transfer of money from the diaspora workers in France back to developing countries. "Diaspora remittances are a major source of external financing for developing countries," Girardin explained.

International expertise

What the Senate vote really brings to the table are reforms in France's international technical expertise, which "will be rationalised," Girardin said.

Numerous French ministries currently use experts to advise them on international affairs. In total, approximately 200 people in 20 offices provide technical expertise on developing countries.

These experts will be grouped together into the same structure as of January 2015.

The legislation, changed by the French Senate, should be accepted by a joint committee on 4 June so that the law is adopted before the summer.

Agenda dominated by Mali and CAR

Annick Girardin used the agenda to stress France's priorities. "A major priority for French development policy will be climate change on the eve of the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris 2015," she said.

Other priorities include education, notably by teaching French, and environmental and social responsibility.

Girardin is committed to continuing projects that were started by her predecessor, Pascal Canfin, especially regarding aid transparency. Having launched a website on transparency of aid sent to Mali, France wants to continue this effort and expand the project to the 16 poorest countries that receive French aid. "The second website will be for the Central African Republic," said the Secretary of State.

The second website could go hand in hand with the launch of a multi-donor trust for the Central African Republic (CAR), which is currently being discussed with different EU member states.

The law authorises the French Development Agency (AFD) to "manage public funds in the framework of operations financed by the European Union and international institutions."

"We have discussed with different European countries launching a multi-donor trust for the Central African Republic, which would be managed by the AFD," explained Giradin.

"Germany backs it, the UK is not against it, but some other member states do not want to go through a national platform," she continued.

Positions: 

"The government has refused amendments by the parliament on issues regarding the rights of people in developing countries," said Bernard Pinaud, Vice President of the Coordination SUD and delegate general of CCFD-Terre Solidaire.

In order to be efficient, the law needs budgetary means, yet governmental decisions are moving towards a cut of the international solidarity budget. "How efficient can a law be without financing?" asked Jean-Louis Vielajus, President of Coordination SUD.

"ONE France welcomes the quality of the democratic debate on France's development policy which is a step towards adopting the first law of its kind," said Friederike Röder, Head of ONE France. Nevertheless, ONE France is less positive regarding budget cuts. “France has continued to reduce the development aid budget, going against the trend of other big donors, and rumours of yet more cuts are of great concern," she continued.

External links: 
  • Framework act on international development and solidarity policies - May 2014
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