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Assessment of France’s international development policy during Emmanuel Macron’s five-year term

Published 4 April 2022 in Analysis

Climate crisis, health crisis, refugee crisis, economic and social crisis, crisis of multilateralism: the last five years have been marked by a series of unprecedented global upheavals.

Has France, the world’s seventh largest economy, a permanent member of the UN Security Council and the fifth largest donor of official development assistance, been up to the challenge of dealing with these crises?

This assessment aims to provide some answers to this question.

Focus 2030 analyzed France’s international solidarity policy during Emmanuel Macron’s five-year term in office, in light of the objectives France set for itself at the last meeting of the Interministerial Committee on International Cooperation and Development (CICID), the body that defines the government’s major orientations in this area for the coming years.

Official development assistance (ODA), global health, gender equality, education, the fight against climate change, support to fragile States, relationship with the African continent: how do these declarations and statements of intent measure up to the facts?

Major milestones in France’s international development policy over the past five years

During this period, in contrast to the trend towards national or regional retrenchment observed around the world, France has clearly increased its calls for multilateral action, notably by hosting major international events: replenishment conferences of the Green Climate Fund, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the Global Partnership for Education, as well as holding the presidency of the G7 Summit in 2019, or initiating innovative conferences such as the Paris Peace Forum, the One Planet Summit, and the Generation Equality Forum.

The unanimous adoption, in the summer of 2021, of the Programming Act on Inclusive Development and the Fight against Global Inequalities has, according to most observers, demonstrated France’s new ambition in this area (search for impact, volume of aid, support for innovation, change of methods).

Beyond the multiplication of initiatives, however, what assessment can be made of their implementation and impact? Here is a look at the major reforms of a public policy unlike any other, the outcome of which may or may not change the lives of millions of people beyond France’s borders.

Official Development Assistance (ODA): an increase in quantity rather than quality?

During the last five years, France’s official development assistance reached a record level, from 9.5 billion euros in 2017 (0.4% of its gross national income), to 14.6 billion euros planned for 2022 (0.55%), i.e. an additional 5 billion euros devoted to this policy. Moreover, the new programming Act on inclusive development sets, for the very first time, a date for reaching the objective - formulated in 1970 at the United Nations - of devoting 0.7% of its national wealth to official development assistance: 2025.

However, despite a clear desire for change, this increase in resources has not been accompanied by an in-depth reform of the implementation of French ODA. Thus, the modernization efforts undertaken since 2018 are slow in terms of strengthening transparency and accountability. Documents detailing the use of funds and the results achieved remain difficult to access and decipher.

Furthermore, the geographic priorities of French aid remain theoretical. Only 4 of the 19 countries considered a priority by the CICID were among the top 20 ODA recipients in 2019. Support for the world’s poorest countries therefore rermains hypothetical: more than 60% of France’s bilateral ODA is allocated to middle-income countries, while less than 10% is directed to low-income countries.

Finally, despite growing financial support for civil society organizations, only 6.5% of France’s aid is channeled through them, making France one of the countries that relies the least on non-governmental actors to fight poverty and inequality among OECD countries (15% on average in 2019).

A stated desire to strengthen the partnership with the African continent, still met with skepticism by observers

Since 2017, the French diplomacy has tried to renew its relations with the African continent, and its youth in particular, by expanding its cooperation beyond the countries of its traditional influence and by trying, with varying degrees of success, to change its image, which has been deteriorated by its colonial and neo-colonial history: the Ouagadougou speech, the strengthening of diplomatic, scientific, and economic relations, the work of remembrance, and the organization of the New Africa-France Summit.

In spite of these initiatives, and as speakers’ testimonies at the New Africa-France Summit underlined, France remains criticized for its actions on the African continent, because of its past, the permanent presence of its military bases, its historical support for authoritarian regimes, or the cascading consequences for the continent of the military operations carried out in Libya in 2011 in which France took part.

Sectoral priorities: a strong political leadership slow to translate into financial support

Over the past five years, France has successfully mobilized its partners (European, G7 and, to a lesser extent, G20) around its international development policy priorities: political support for multilateral instruments in global health and a coordinated response to the Covid-19 pandemic, adoption of a feminist diplomacy, hosting and support for international conferences in favor of education and climate.

However, this commitment has been slow to translate into financial support. France remains the G7 country with the smallest financial contribution to the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic relative to its wealth, it is below the average of OECD countries in terms of promoting gender equality, most of its contribution to education is still allocated to organizations based on the national territory, and its climate funding does not respect the need for a balance between mitigation and adaptation projects promoted by the Paris Agreement.

Global health: a greater political leadership but an insufficient support to the multilateral response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

France allocated 835 million euros in ODA to global health in 2019, mainly through the multilateral channel. Throughout this five-year period, it has actively supported international organizations working in favor of global health (Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, or the World Health Organization). However, while France has contributed to the implementation of a coordinated response for equitable global access to Covid-19 tools (ACT Accelerator or ACT-A), it has only committed a quarter of its fair share, the financial effort expected given its wealth.

Gender equality, the beginnings of a feminist diplomacy

As the international component of the “great cause” of the five-year term, France adopted a feminist diplomacy in 2018 that resulted in three notable commitments: the inclusion of gender equality as a cross-cutting issue of the French presidency of the G7 in 2019, the co-hosting with Mexico of the Generation Equality Forum in 2021, and the promotion of gender equality as a transversal objective of the new programming Act on inclusive development, with the commitment to devote 75% of France’s ODA to the direct or indirect promotion of gender equality by 2025.

In the face of civil society’s expectations, the financial commitments made do not yet allow France to live up to its ambitions and to play on an equal footing with other countries that have adopted a feminist diplomacy, such as Sweden and Canada.

Education: an increasing contribution, of which half does not leave the country

Between 2017 and 2019, France increased its ODA for education, notably through a drastic increase in its support for the Global Partnership for Education. It has thus reached 1.4 billion euros in 2019. Nevertheless, half of this contribution is still made up of tuition fees in France for foreign students (school fees and scholarships), and therefore does not directly benefit ODA-eligible countries.

Climate: Make the planet great again, is that so?

During this five-year period, France has continued its multilateral commitment to the fight against climate change, with a contribution of 6 billion euros in 2019, and a commitment to reiterate this contribution until 2025. For example, it has doubled its contribution to the Green Climate Fund (5 billion euros for 2020-2023).

However, it should be noted that only one third of its climate financing is devoted to climate change adaptation projects, below the level set out in the Paris Agreement. Moreover, France’s domestic climate efforts are insufficient, as noted by the High Council for the Climate, ranking it 23rd out of 57 countries in the 2021 Climate Change Performance Index.

The adoption, in the summer of 2021, of the programming act on inclusive development and the fight against global inequalities, marks significant progress in terms of method, financial resources, and the alignment of priorities with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In the years to come, France must confirm its ability to meet its commitments over the long term, be it by modernizing its cooperation instruments and increasing their transparency, by confirming the financial trajectory of its official development assistance, or by renewing - in depth - its partnership with the African continent.

More broadly, France must take its share of responsibility towards future generations, whether in preparing for future pandemics, fighting and adapting to climate change, solving demographic challenges, or regulating finance, all topics that civil society actors from the North and South will bring to the attention of political leaders, with a view to accelerating the achievement of the SDGs, which has been compromised by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Further reading

Modernization of the French international solidarity policy: where are we at?

Documents to download

Bilan de la politique de développement international de la France durant le quinquennat d’Emmanuel Macron Modernization of the French international solidarity policy: where are we at?