Development still a non-issue in French election

A defence exercise in Chad. Marine Le Pen said she would ensure aid was spent on security and defence operations in Africa. [US Department of Defense/Flickr]

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.

The question of development has hardly been raised in a campaign where international issues on the whole have taken a back seat.

“International solidarity is rarely at the heart of the debate in a presidential election. But more and more candidates see development assistance as a response to international challenges,” said Annabel Hervieu, the deputy director of the NGO ONE France.

France has fallen a long way behind on its commitment to finance international solidarity. In 2015, Paris allocated 0.36% of GNI, roughly €9 billion, to development; just over half of the 0.7% promised by France and the other rich countries of the OECD.

French presidential candidates neglect development policy debate

As France’s presidential election looms nearer, French NGOs have asked the candidates to put development policies, which are currently notable in their absence from the debate, at the heart of their foreign policy proposals. EURACTIV France reports.

International objective

Despite committing to the 0.7% target in 2012, President François Hollande was unable to turn the ebbing tide of France’s development budget. Five years on, this budget is much the same as it was at the start of Hollande’s mandate, after the reversal of deep cuts made after he assumed office.

While France, unlike many of its European neighbours, has never achieved the 0.7% objective, the various presidential candidates have in recent weeks either clarified their positions or remained consciously evasive on the matter.

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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.

Since launching a campaign calling on the 11 candidates to give details of their commitments, ONE France has only received one official response, from Benoît Hamon. The Socialist candidate provided spending calculations and details on his development policy, if he were to be elected.

Hamon has pledged to reach the 0.7% target by 2022, spending this money entirely on “the fight against poverty” in developing countries. Jean-Luc Mélenchon has also adopted the 0.7% target.

François Fillon, on the other hand, wants part of France’s aid budget to be conditional on the reduction of migration flows and the return of migrants to their countries of origin.

The return of conditionality

The Republican is the only leading candidate to advocate conditionality. “I would make development assistance conditional, particularly for the major countries of origin for immigrants, to encourage them to help in the return of their citizens,” Fillon’s programme states, without giving any concrete figures.

To make any precise commitments on the subject would be “perilous”, Fillon’s representative Christian Cambon said at a debate organised by the NGO.

European countries far from meeting development aid promises

European countries are far from meeting their official development assistance (ODA) targets. Factors related to migration are further adding to the financial pressure faced by development budgets, parts of which are being earmarked to take care of refugees.

“The confusion between migration spending and development assistance is a red line,” said Hervieu. “This debate is taking place at the European level and France should take a stance.”

European Union countries have broadly coordinated on development policy since 2015. Driven by the migration crisis, this cooperation has been criticised by NGOs for diverting funds from developing countries for use in migrant hosting and readmission schemes.

Security and defence

Emmanuel Macron appears ambivalent on the subject. “It’s a mess. On the link between official development assistance and migration policy, part of his programme says yes, the other part says no,” said Hervieu.

For the National Front, development aid is firmly linked to defence and security.

“I commit to ensuring that French cooperation focusses on three major themes: defence and security forces, agriculture and infrastructure, education and health,” Marine Le Pen said during a visit to Chad on 23 March.

The extreme-right candidate also adopted the symbolic objective of 0.7% of GNI. “I make this commitment because allocating 0.7% of French wealth to our cooperation with Africa by 2022 is an investment in our prosperity and our security,” she said.

But unlike Hamon and Mélenchon, Le Pen would include “spending on security and defence, which does not belong in the official development assistance budget,” said Hervieu.

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