French development aid and francophonie make unlikely bedfellows

Cross de la Fracophonie. Sénégal, 2010. [Special Olympics Sénégal/Flickr]

The French cabinet reshuffle brought the development and francophonie portfolios under one secretary of state, an arrangement that many struggle to understand. EURACTIV France reports.

François Hollande’s cabinet reshuffle has made some unlikely bedfellows. In an attempt to decrease the number of ministers and secretary generals, certain portfolios were merged into one, such as development and francophonie.

Double portfolio

Many NGOs are struggling to understand this decision, seeing it as a “particularly negative” message to the international community and humanitarian actors.

“It is not positive to agglomerate these two departments. It is a mixture of genres” claimed an NGO.

“We are pleased that there is a secretary of state, but as it is a double portfolio, we do not yet know its disposition in relation to development issues,” said a spokesperson for ONE.

“We hoped that development aid would keep its primary aim of fighting poverty and not be subjected to economic, diplomatic or political interests, which are greater in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” explains Christian Reboul, head of public development aid at Oxfam France.

Annick Girardin, the new secretary of state for development and francophonie, defended the new arrangement during a hearing before the French Senate’s Committee on Foreign Affairs and described the logic behind it as a “complimentary and efficacy”. 

“The combination of francophonie and development at the heart of the same secretary of state is not a renunciation,” she claimed.

In fact, the partnership between francophonie and development aid already exists. All 16 priority countries where France concentrates the majority of its aid are part of the International Organisation of the Francophonie, and only Ghana and Mauritania do not include French as an official language.

“There are synergies between our development policies and the promotion of the French language” said Annick Girardin. “Francophonie is a cultural privilege, but it is also a political and economic asset.”

Tense circumstances

Annick Girardin will have her hands full over the next few months, having to deal with reviewing draft laws for development and international solidarity policy (the first of its kind), and tax on European transactions, part of which will be given towards development aid. There are also concerns regarding the budget decrease for aid to developing countries, which was brought to the fore by a recent OECD report.

“Annick Girardin comes at a particularly tense time following the publication of the OECD report,” explained Christian Reboul.

On 8 April, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development published the 2013 figures on finance dedicated to development. Although the global trend saw an increase of 6.1%, French development aid had decreased.

>> Read: France cuts its development aid more than Greece

In 2013, countries dedicated almost 10% less to development aid than in 2012. This takes countries further away from the target of dedicating 0.7% of gross national income to development by 2015.

Review of “development” bill

Girardin outlined her plan during a hearing before the French Senate on 15 April, which she claims will continue the work of her predecessor, Pascal Canfin.

“This framework bill displays the President’s strong will. […] We are aware of our fellow citizens’ eagerness to see results. Therefore it is crucial not to extend deadlines” she stated. Secondly, “we must ensure that best intentions are put in practice”.

Manuel Valls became the new Prime Minister of France on 2 April 2014 after local elections in which the National Front won 14 towns. He is at the head of a smaller government which he describes as "ready for combat".

As part of the reshuffle and tightening of the cabinet, Annick Girardin has been appointed as secretary of state for development and francophonie, and takes over the two portfolios that were previously held by Pascal Canfin and Yamina Benguigui.

  • 30 April and 21 May 2014: review of the framework bill by the Senate’s committee of foreign affairs
  • ?26 May 2014: review and vote during plenary session on the framework bill

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