French development assistance shows modest increase

French President Emmanuel Macron in Gao [EPA/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON / POOL MAXPPP OUT]

While France seems to be in the process of getting back on track with regard to international solidarity, some ambiguities in the 2019 budget are a cause of concern for NGOs. EURACTIV France reports.

Will France return to being among the best performers in the field of development assistance? As the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) delivered its report on French development policy between 2013 and 2018, the organisation welcomed the turnaround by the French government.

It was satisfied to see the commitments by French President Emmanuel Macron to increase development aid. In fact, François Hollande’s former economy minister had promised in his presidential campaign to increase the amount of development aid to 0.55% of national wealth by the end of his mandate in 2022. This is an ambitious objective, which has been repeatedly reinstated since 2017.

In early September, Jean-Yves Le Drian, the minister for Europe and foreign affairs, announced a vast renewal of French development assistance, including a €1 billion increase in assistance.

Moreover, new legislation on guidelines and planning will be submitted to the parliament in 2019. This is because, following five years of reductions between 2012 and 2016, French assistance has fallen being equivalent to 0.45% of national wealth to 0.38%.

This law should therefore align the objectives of the French policy with those of the sustainable development goals and set the assistance policy in stone.

A ramp-like increase

On the funding side, while an initial increase occurred in 2017, there remains a long way to go to meet the stated objectives.

Out of the €1 billion additional euros announced in early September, only a small proportion would indeed be released in 2019. “These are commitment appropriations which are intended to be distributed over several years. Therefore, it is not in fact a further €1 billion for public development assistance in 2019,” Oxfam underlined in a statement.

Moreover, the introduction of the finance bill for 2019 did not result in the expected boost to development assistance.

France has proposed an increase of only 4% for the mission of public development assistance in 2019, representing €130 million.

EU to hike migration spending in development aid overhaul

The European Commission will set out its plans to dramatically increase spending on migration control on Thursday (14 June), as part of its overhaul of EU development spending between 2021 and 2027.

Reduced financial transaction tax contribution

Moreover, the government bill endorses a decrease in the proportion of financial transaction tax (FTT) allocated to development, which will move from 50% to only 35% of the total revenue generated by the tax in 2019.

The tax on financial transactions brings in approximately €1.5 billion every year. Half of this is assigned to international solidarity, representing about €800 million.

“Of course, this increase is welcome, but it comes after several years of major cuts. Therefore, we are still in the process of catching up. We now need a significant boost so that France finally matches its ambitions and the commitments made at the international level,” highlighted Michael Siegel, Oxfam France spokesperson.

“According to the OECD, more than €6 billion per year are required to achieve 0.55% by 2022. However, this new budget only notes an increase of €130 million so we should not reach year 2022 with a bad surprise.” Siegel stated.

Shortcomings in equality

Beyond the financial amounts of the assistance, the OECD review underlined that French assistance continues to lag behind in terms of gender equality. Indeed, only 22% of the projects include gender equality, whereas the average for OECD countries is 40%.

A further bad mark noted by the OECD is the increasingly dominant security aspect to French assistance. “France has to be careful not to link development assistance to the sole issues of security, domestic policy and regulation of migratory flows,” the report warns.

“There is a great temptation, in France and in Europe, to use the aid money for military operations in Mali or Chad, or to keep migrants or refugees far from our coasts. However, the assistance has to be placed at the service of local populations to support them in fighting against poverty, inequalities and climate change,” the report underlined.

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