France’s young international technical expertise agency has big ambitions, but in this sector dominated by Germany, European cooperation is a dirty word. EURACTIV France reports.
The French technical expertise agency, Expertise France, has is now one year old. Born from a fusion of a number of different international expertise agencies, Expertise France provides support to developing countries, strengthening their capacities on subjects as varied as public finances, good governance and sustainable development.
This tool is vital to France’s official development assistance programme, and more importantly, for distributing its financial aid in the Global South.
But the road to the agency’s goal of becoming the “European champion” will be a long one.
The German juggernaut
With a turnover of €130 million in 2015, up 15% on the previous year, Expertise France expects to increase its activity by another 20% in 2016. But even if it reaches this goal, Expertise France will still be far behind its German counterpart, whose turnover is €1.8 billion.
Jean-Christophe Donnellier, the chairman of the board of directors of Expertise France, described the German Technical Cooperation agency (GTZ) as the “juggernaut of the European sector”.
Smaller agencies have existed for a long time elsewhere in Europe, for example in Spain, “but we are gradually seeing the emergence of technical co-operation agencies right across Europe: in Portugal, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Italy. Even the Scandinavians want to organise their international expertise, after having completely abandoned the area,” Donnellier said.
Expertise France currently receives 40% of its funds from the EU. And the implementation of EU Trust Fund for Africa, launched by the European Commission to tackle the root causes of migration, is expected to increase this proportion.
“Our ambition is to submit a proposal to work on the restoration of public services and the management of the borders between Burkina Faso and Mali. This would be a pilot project to be replicated in other areas,” explained Sébastien Mosneron Dupin, the director general of Expertise France.
“In terms of cooperation, we are just as much an agent of the French Government as the European Commission,” he added.
Better European cooperation
Coordination between Europe’s foreign expertise agencies is weak. There is no European agency in this field, and the subject which was once an EU priority has been abandoned by Brussels.
“The Commission has made attempts to launch a European expertise agency, but several countries, including Germany, opposed it,” Donnellier explained.
And with good reason: competition between member states can be tough, and while ostensibly primarily a development tool, technical cooperation is also one of the best possible means of trade promotion.
“The exporting of French expertise on public-private partnerships or standards helps us create a business-friendly atmosphere,” Mosneron-Dupin said.
Achieving a system that is optimised for access by French companies is the best possible return on an investment by Expertise France. And Germany is no stranger to this concept.
“If Germany spends ten years investing in the development of standards for renewable energies in South Africa, it is because they want to follow it up by winning all the commercial bids the sector can offer,” Mosneron-Dupin added.