France announces development aid boost

While there have long been many challenges at the international level, the COVID-19 pandemic has truly upset international relations. [Shutterstock / hxdbzxy]

This article is part of our special report Renewal of international cooperation in a post-pandemic world.

After international stakeholders came together on 9 February to discuss new solidarity-based development models, the French government presented a text on Wednesday (17 February) to increase development aid to 0.55% of the country’s wealth by 2022. EURACTIV France reports.

More than 3,400 people attended the virtual event organised by Expertise France. Five years after its creation, the French agency for international and inter-ministerial technical cooperation mobilises a network of around 10,000 experts and currently has 500 projects in over 100 countries.

“Faced with the COVID-19 pandemic and the great challenge of the century, we need a real boost to global solidarity,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in his introductory remarks.

“It is in the same dynamic of mobilisation and re-foundation that the bill on solidarity development and the fight against global inequalities is part of,” said the minister, adding that the bill will be brought before the National Assembly next week and before the Senate in the spring, with the hope that it “will be adopted before the summer”.

The text presented at the Palais Bourbon aims to fulfil President Emmanuel Macron’s pledge to increase development aid to 0.55% of the country’s gross national income by 2022 by increasing the share of donations to 19 priority countries, “to make a real difference”.

“The health of some depends on the health of all. This is the thrust of our fight to turn COVID-19 vaccines into new global public goods, as part of the ACT Accelerator initiative (launched by the WHO),” said Le Drian. “It is no longer a question of acting for the countries of the South but with them (…), because the challenges we face are common challenges.”

As part of the new bill, Expertise France will also join France’s development agency, known as AFD, with the French state and the EU as partners. “We are an agency that is as much European as it is French”, underlined Jérémie Pellet, chief executive of Expertise France and former deputy CEO of AFD.

Rethinking the governance model 

According to Pellet, the change in approach is significant. “We no longer do technical cooperation as we did 30 or 40 years ago. Today cooperation is open, partnership-based, done with all the actors, from civil society, the public sector, local authorities, the diaspora…”.

Michel Miraillet, the director-general for globalisation, culture, education, and international development at France’s foreign ministry highlighted the multiplier effect the EU can have.

“We must now also look at its capacity to appear as a fundamental player in development through its banks and financial institutions,” Miraillet said, noting that there should be “a fundamental debate” about whether there should be “a European Investment Bank and a European Bank for Reconstruction and Development with a greater presence in Africa.”

International cooperation in COVID-times

UNAIDS Executive Director and UN Under-Secretary-General, Winnie Byanyima, underlined that “COVID-19 is not an ephemeral pandemic, it is the sign of an existential crisis that threatens all humanity. We will not be able to overcome such common threats by responding through current international rules and unbridled competition between countries”.

Byanyima reminded that nine out of 10 people from the poorest countries will not get the jab this year, adding that “if they are lucky, it will be in 2022 or 2023”, and noting that vaccine manufacturers “don’t produce enough vaccines and charge developing countries higher prices for them”.

According to Byanyima, production methods must be reformed in order to meet global demand. “Developing countries are not asking for charity, they want to produce their own vaccine. Sharing licences, know-how, and expertise is in the interest of the whole world,” she added.

According to Tunisian Economy Minister Ali Kooli, the coronavirus pandemic has exposed common global vulnerabilities.

“Faced with the disease, we have found a form of equality. It is important not to maintain a North-South divide, and this requires access to medicines and vaccines,” he explained. “Every country first had to deal with the urgency and political pressure from its own public. Now we have to put the panic effect behind us and think more globally: everyone has their share of success. Otherwise, we will find it increasingly difficult to manage our policies,” he added.

After the pandemic revealed shortcomings in public communication on scientific data, French Nobel prize winner, virologist Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, called for greater unity within the research and health sectors and highlighted the need to “communicate better with society”.

“Restoring public confidence in science would require more interaction with citizens, through science ambassadors for example,” said the virologist, adding that better cooperation between researchers, healthcare personnel, political decision-makers, and civil society would be “critical in responding to pandemics […] in the future”.

The importance of digital innovation 

Digital tools also had a dominant role in responding to the pandemic. At the International Cooperation Meetings, several attendees addressed the issue of innovation and its role in development cooperation.

Kenyan immunologist Yvonne Mburu, the founder of Nexakili (a network for knowledge transfer in the world of health, science, and technology), called for a “revolution in the world of international cooperation”.

According to Mburu, the health and environmental crises are “forcing each country to review its development model”. The time has come for the launch of “a real development cooperation that recognises that we all have something to learn,” rather than divide the world into “those who teach and those who receive”.

This view was shared by Rémy Rioux, director-general of the French Development Agency (AFD).

“We are all in sustainable development […] and solutions are emerging everywhere,” he explained, adding that there are “lessons to be learned from the way the COVID-19 crisis was handled in Africa”.

'Stars are aligned' for EU-African relations

The EU’s plans to strike a ‘strategic partnership’ with Africa were one the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Portuguese government, which holds the six-month rotating EU presidency, is anxious to conclude the agenda by the summer.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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