French development aid falls below EU average

A malnourished child in Ethiopia. [DFID/Flickr]

The French budget for official development assistance (ODA) fell for the fourth year running in 2014. The latest cut of 10% since 2013 has left French ODA below the European average. EURACTIV France reports

The ongoing contraction of French development aid shows no sign of stopping.

The share of French gross national income (GNI) dedicated to development assistance fell to 0.36% ($10.3 billion) in 2014, according to figures published by the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) on 7 April.

But the international trend is for increasing sums to be dedicated to development assistance. Aid from Development Aid Committee (DAC) members reached $135.2 billion in 2014, similar to the historic high levels of 2013. Since 2000, official development assistance has risen by 66%.

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


France is still among the top donors of aid by volume, behind the United States and the United Kingdom, but was also overtaken by Germany for the first time in 2014.

With the second largest European economy, France’s aid donations as a percentage of GNI put it in 10th place in the EU, behind Ireland and Belgium.

“France has once again significantly cut its development aid budget in 2014, which fell by nearly 10% on 2013 levels. It is getting further and further from fulfilling its promise of allocating 0.7% of its gross national income to aid,” said Friederike Röder, Director of the NGO ONE France.

Sources within the French government said that the country’s budgetary difficulties “partly explain this fall”.

Bad example

Official development assistance from European countries and institutions averaged 0.42% of GNI in 2014, while France donated 0.36% of GNI.

A Commission press release stated that “ODA/GNI ratio saw a decline in France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain and in 11 other EU Member States”. If the EU and its member states continue to donate 50% of the world’s development assistance, Neven Mimica, the Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, said “we are still some way from meeting our ambitious targets”.

France is not the only EU country to be singled out by the Commission for its falling donations. Spain, Ireland and Portugal have all greatly reduced their official development assistance, and the Netherlands, which was on track to meet its 0.7% of GNI target this year, has also seen its ODA drop off.

>> Read: French MPs move to protect development assistance commitments (in French)

The UN General Assembly decided in 1970 that 0.7% of GNI should be dedicated to development aid. The commitment was reiterated in 2005 at the Gleneagles G8 summit, where the European members agreed on a target date of 2015.

However, ten years later, progress has been weak. In 2005, the countries of the DAC gave an average of 0.32% of their GNI to developing countries. This percentage fell to 0.29% in 2014, one year before the 2015 deadline. French contributions have fallen from 0.47% in 2005 to 0.36% today. In spite of this decline, the French government has said “we are not abandoning the 0.7% objective and we will continue to show solidarity”.

But the gulf between words and actions is a cause of increasing impatience among NGOs. Philippe Jahshan, President of Coordination SUD, said, “The political choice made by France is incomprehensible and penalises the most vulnerable populations in a year when they should be redoubling their efforts. The gap between words and reality is even less palatable.”

"I am proud that the EU has upheld its place as the world's leading provider of ODA in recent years, despite the difficult economic situation. But we are still some way from meeting our ambitious targets. 2015 is a crucial year for the future of sustainable development, with negotiations on the post-2015 agenda and financing for development set to conclude. I firmly believe that we should recommit to reaching the 0.7% target as a crucial contribution to securing an ambitious outcome to the post-2015 negotiations," said Neven Mimica, the EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development.

"How can we take future commitments seriously if the real contributions keep falling year on year? Without coherence, without ambitious funds, without a strong example from France, these targets are doomed to failure, particularly the COP 21," said Christian Reboul, head of development finance at Oxfam France.

Grégoire Niaudet, a lobbyist for Secours Catholique - Caritas France, said "The tendency is towards the privatisation of development assistance at a time when the global development issues like health, education, food security and adaptation to climate change call more than ever for increased public funding and limited private sector involvement".

Bruno Rivalan, Director of Global Health Advocates in France, said "We expect coherence between words and actions, but above all a renewed political will to unblock new funds from the next budget, prioritising subsidies for the poorest countries".

Aid to developing countries grew steadily from 1997, to a first peak in 2010, according to OECD figures.

It fell in 2011 and 2012, as many governments took austerity measures and trimmed aid budgets.

Aid budgets rebounded in 2013, and even taking into account the five countries that joined the DAC that year (Iceland, Poland the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia), official development assistance commitments from DAC members reached a historic high. In 2013, almost €100 billion was spent on aid.

  • July 2015: Conferences on development financing in Addis-Abeba
  • September 2015: Special summit on Sustainable Development Goals in New-York.
  • December 2015: COP 21 in Paris

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