by Nino Sergi* for Vita.it
* president emeritus of INTERSOS and policy advisor of LINK
The Senate of the French Republic is called upon to definitively approve the government bill adopted by the National Assembly ( in the photo ) on 2 March with 502 votes in favor and 0 against: “Programming law relating to joint development and the fight against global inequalities ”. The new legislation replaces, after just under seven years, the law 2014-773 “Orientation and programming of development policy and international solidarity”. It is a decision in line with the global changes of recent years, which can be an example for the Italian government and parliament which should, seven years after law 125/2014, make the necessary changes and partly indispensable for its full implementation and its adaptation to the new needs deriving from the changed international contexts: demonstrating a vision and political will in the field of international relations for development on a par with neighbors across the Alps.
Compared to the gradual disengagement of the United Kingdom or the apathetic minimalism of Italy, France takes a path in countertrend, seizing the lesson learned from the sudden spread and consequences of the Covid pandemic and understanding the need for a coordinated multilateral response together with strong relations of solidarity and greater global justice in line with the 2030 Agenda, for our own future .
In 10 points we try to summarize the novelties of the French law and the lessons that we can draw from them.
1. In particular, there are three intentions: to relaunch development policy to better fight against inequalities, with tools that are up to the current challenges and by building supportive partnerships; allow all development actors to fully play their role in this solidarity effort; ensure the best results, accompanying the actions with coherent policies and evaluating their impacts . They are explained in the report “Cadre de partenariat global” annexed to the text of the law. France thus intends to place itself among the top three states in the world in action for development, increasing the weight of its international relevance. Apart from the shared and determined political will, the strategic vision inserted in the current context of global crisis and the communicative emphasis, however, there are few novelties in the French proposal, despite recognizing its undoubted value . In fact, it copies the progress made with the 2018-2022 programme, strongly advocated by President Emmanuel Macron, relating to the constant increase in appropriations, the implementation of political guidelines, the subjects involved, the structural and operational instruments. And it demonstrates that the commitments have been implemented and that from this concrete basis France intends to restart with an updated vision of the global situation, better coordination and additional resources.
2. Objectives in line with the Italian ones. The objectives of the new French policy for joint development and the fight against global inequalities (“a pillar of French foreign policy”) essentially follow those of Italian development cooperation (“an integral and qualifying part of Italy’s foreign policy”). : eradication of poverty in all its dimensions, protection of global public goods and the planet, fight against inequalities, food insecurity and malnutrition, promotion of human rights, especially of children, equality between women and men, strengthening of the state of law and democracy, respect for and promotion of international principles and norms, including international humanitarian law, implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals of Agenda 2030, the Paris Climate Agreement,
3. Priorities in line with the Italian ones. Redefinition of geographical and thematic priorities; construction of supportive partnerships, of mutual interest and benefit, aligned with the development strategies of the partner countries; wide participation of civil society subjects, private actors, local communities, diasporas both in the construction of partnerships and in the proposal and implementation of ideas and actions and in the evaluation of cooperation policy; periodic verification of the coherence of all national policies with those of solidarity development; fight against global inequalities. Focus on 18 sub-Saharan African countries; support for debt cancellation of fragile countries, for which large grants will replace loans; Global challenges, from climate to biodiversity, from global health to crises and security, from education to equality between women and men will be addressed by investing in multilateral organizations and funds in partnerships based on the principles of responsibility and shared interest. Supporting debt relief or swapping of highly indebted fragile countries and substitution of loans with grants it is also motivated by political concerns that the Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian made explicit by highlighting how Russia and above all China have increased bilateral loans, creating ever greater dependence, strengthening their influence, often influencing the choices of countries indebted and making the debt unsustainable in the long run. Most of China’s lending is done by state-owned commercial banks that are controlled by the state but operate as legally independent entities and not as sovereign lenders, as if they were private entities. In any case, the situation is worrying, given that the average public debt of sub-Saharan African countries now reaches 65% of GDP, ten points more than pre-Covid forecasts. It should be noted that the French decision to cancel/reconvert the debt of low-income countries resides in development cooperation policy, with which other policies must be consistent . The new law also includes measures to counter fraudulent abuses by the authorities of partner countries through a mechanism for the return to states of confiscated, illegally acquired or corrupted assets.
4. A strong and determined political will. France shows a strong unity of purpose: from President Macron to the Government and the entire Parliament. The objectives are included in a broad, far-sighted vision, with binding commitments, set out in the law itself and to be implemented with a rapid program of institutional structuring and new substantial allocations to reach an overall ODA equal to 0.55% of GNI in 2022 and to reach 0.7% by 2025, compared to 0.44% today: 14 billion euros in 2022 against 10.9 in 2019 and 9.5 in 2017 (this is the set of expenses accepted by the OECD-DAC for calculating ODA, official development aid). These are figures contained in the first article of the law text which highlights those aimed at international cooperation and solidarity initiatives: € 3,989 million in 2020, 4,713 million in 2021, 5,638 million in 2022. In 2019, multilateral action represented 39% of the ‘ODA (4.3 billion, of which 2.3 was a contribution to EU ODA), while bilateral initiatives accounted for 61% of ODA (6.6 billion, including: project financing 2, 5 billion; budget support for developing countries 1.014 billion; technical assistance 560 million; scholarships 825 million; development research institutes (IRD), agronomy (CIRAD) etc. 339 million; expenses for the reception and health of asylum seekers 1.048 billion). Humanitarian aid and stabilization projects reached € 92 million in 2019, rising to 126 million for 250 projects with the participation of NGOs/CSOs around 70% of the interventions in 2020, a year that ended with a “national humanitarian conference” which was attended by the President of the Republic, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and various other authorities.
5. A widespread and shared importance and interest. From the President of the Republic to the Prime Minister, to the ministers directly involved in foreign affairs, economy and finance, overseas territories, up to territorial administrations, civil society organisations, the private sector, the voluntary sector, student exchanges, in perspective of cooperation based on partnerships at various levels. The law provides for the collection and publicity of data relating to the bilateral and multilateral cooperation implemented sectorally by the various public and private subjects involved, which are available in a readable way on the relative institutional websites together with the annual reports and evaluations.
6. Chain of command and political responsibilities. It has branched out at all levels, demonstrating the importance attached to international cooperation .
- The Presidential Council for Development , chaired by the President of the Republic, with the participation of the ministers of foreign affairs, of the economy and finance, of sectorally competent ministers and of the director of the AFD, the French development agency, has the task of taking the major strategic decisions.
- At government level, the Interministerial Committee for International Cooperation and Development (CICID) , chaired by the Prime Minister, defines the guidelines of international policy and development cooperation; while the ministers of foreign affairs, economy and finance, overseas are the three top figures of political reference for the different cooperation instruments.
- The National Council for Development and International Solidarity (CNDSI) is chaired and animated by the minister responsible for development with the aim of deepening the dialogue on cooperation policy and encouraging the construction of synergies and the communication of knowledge between development actors , scientific and cultural cooperation, economic cooperation, public interest groups. In the new law it is located among the first articles.
- The National Commission for Decentralized Cooperation (CNCD) , chaired by the prime minister or, in his absence, by the minister responsible for development, ensures dialogue between the state and the local authorities on matters of cooperation, presents proposals and keeps the status of their action updated international.
- The Minister responsible for development also chairs the AFD’s Strategic Guidance Council (COS) made up of State representatives on the Agency’s Board of Directors, which supervises the concrete application of the guidelines established by the State following the decisions of the CICID.
- At the local level, the role of the ambassador is strengthened in the context of the Local Development Council which regularly brings together development operators who act on a daily basis in relation to partner populations and also local civil society organizations, in order to draw up a country-strategy and country-planning project to be presented for approval by the central structures.
7. French Development Agency (AFD) and Implementing Bodies. The State establishes the strategic guidelines and the resources allocated to the entities of the AFD Group, a French development agency which, with the new law, includes Expertise France and Proparco. It intervenes both with grants (project support, budget support, debt restructuring projects, World Environment Fund (FFEM), program to strengthen the trade capacities of partner countries) and with concessional credits. It also acts within the framework of cooperation delegated by the EU or financed by international organisations, public bodies, foreign states and development financial institutions. Over the years, the AFD has also been able to benefit from significant European funds, particularly in blending operations. It interacts with the Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (Caisse des Dépôts). With the new law, 85% of funding for AFD development activities will go to Africa and the Mediterranean. The AFD is active in 115 countries with a network of 85 agencies and 17 regional directorates and with a staff of approximately 3,000 officials and experts, also chosen with criteria attentive to gender balance.
EXPERTISE FRANCE is the technical agency of the French cooperation – born with the legislative reform of 2014 under the protection of the ministries of foreign affairs and of the economy and finance with the name “Agence Française d’Expertise Technique Internationale” – with the task of conceiving and implement the projects in developing and emerging countries. With the new law it is transformed into a simplified joint-stock company, whose capital is held in whole or in part by the AFD. The different ministries can refer to it for the implementation of cooperation actions relating to their international commitments.
PROPARCO (Promotion et Participation pour la Coopération économique) is the international cooperation institution dedicated to the financing and accompaniment of private sector projects and financial institutions . The AFD, through Proparco and the investment fund to support businesses in Africa (Fisea), also grants loans and guarantees and takes direct equity investments to strengthen the private sector in developing countries.
Other public entities contribute to the development cooperation action, such as the Institute for Development Research (Ird), the Center for International Cooperation in Agronomic Research for Development (Cirad), the Pasteur Institute, Canal France International (Cfi ) for the development of the media and support for their role for democracy and dialogue.
Part of the bilateral action is carried out directly by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also with the collaboration of civil society organizations, with tools such as: – the solidarity fund for innovative projects (FSPI) also managed by the embassies, – the unit for humanitarian crises, – food aid, – funds to support international volunteering, – funds for decentralized cooperation, – scholarships awarded to students from developing countries.
The Ministry of Economy and Finance intervenes on concessional loans, the fund for feasibility studies and aid to the private sector for export and development cooperation (Fasep), the budget allocation for ODA, debt reduction .
8. Transparency and accountability. The bill underlines the increased need for transparency and accountability : citizens must in fact know and be able to evaluate how the enormous resources that the law makes available for development cooperation are used. An independent evaluation commission is also set up with the task of measuring the impact of initiatives and projects in partner countries and of deciding on the effectiveness of public development cooperation.
[ Note . The French have found the term redevabilité to translate the English accountability. In Italy we have not yet succeeded, despite the inescapable importance in matters of development cooperation of the unconditional responsibility to account in a transparent, exhaustive and understandable way for one’s choices, one’s work and the results achieved. It remains problematic to be accountable without having assimilated this term with its full meaning into the common language. The “report” (a term distinct from the ordinary report-reporting) could condense the concept ].
9. The role of civil society . Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian – who in four years as head of foreign affairs has seen three Italian ministers pass through the same function – paid close attention to the requests of civil society organizations presented with a single voice and a single written document to the National Council of development and international solidarity CNDSI. The government law proposal therefore included, starting from the 1st article, the recognition to the CSOs of a right of initiative in cooperation activities, the doubling of the funds allocated for their interventions compared to 2017 [76 million in 2017, 93 in 2019 , and therefore 152 million in 2022, to which must be added funding from the Directorate of Operations (Crisis and Support Center, Humanitarian Aid), the French Fund for the World Environment (Ffem) etc. for a total of grants in 2019 of 341 million to OSC, now growing], the expansion of civil commitment, international volunteering with a reciprocity character for missions in France of foreign citizens.
The law also accepted (art. 2) the request of the CSOs to guarantee coherence between the objectives of the development policy and those of other public policies which could have a negative impact on the achievement of the sustainable development objectives. The text of the law also provides that this coherence is assessed in the annual report of the Government to the Parliament. The coordination of the French NGOs of international solidarity, Coordination Sud (170 NGOs/CSOs), has contributed to improving the bill, finding attention and listening in the broad process of consultation of the government with all the actors of development and solidarity international.
10. It is now up to Italy to play its part. Law 125 of 2014 has not yet been fully implemented nor will it be implemented without making the regulatory improvements that have proved necessary, without providing the specific General Management and in particular the AICS Agency with the indispensable human, financial and structural resources (starting from the Aics headquarters), without keeping the commitments undertaken, that is, without a shared and determined political will and a strategic vision inserted in the current context of global crisis that pervade the government and the parliament, starting from the minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation and from the solicitation of the Prime Minister. These are fundamental political responsibilities in order to be able to guarantee quality, effectiveness, transparency and coherence in Italy’s development cooperation action in its multilateral dimension and in the construction of solidarity-based bilateral partnerships, as required by the new global situation. — This article was published on Vita.it on March 17, 2021.