Peer reviews of DAC members

France (1997), Development Co-operation Review



French development assistance: goals and instruments

France has always pursued the objective of a substantial, sustained aid effort, and now ranks second in aid volume among donor countries. As host to the Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the Group of Seven (G7) major industrial democracies in Lyon in 1996, France sought to give a prominent profile to the top-level discussion of development co-operation issues. France's official development assistance (ODA) disbursements amounted to $8.4 billion (FF 42.1 billion) in 1995. Three-quarters of this amount was disbursed as bilateral aid, half of which went to Sub-Saharan Africa. The humanitarian aid of French international solidarity associations (Associations de solidarité internationale -- ASI), such as 'Médecins sans Frontières' is known world-wide.

In the previous review of France by the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) in March 1994, the Committee's main concern was the diversity of the various components that make up the French aid system. The Committee concluded that this diversity detracted from the goals and effectiveness of one of the donor community's major programmes. Since then, substantial changes have been made which have had an impact on the management of French aid; this will help to bring French aid more into line with the policy thrust outlined by the government and improve its performance. The re-organisation of the French development co-operation system, announced by the Prime Minister in February 1996, reflects some of the recommendations made in recent years by a number of expert reports: closer links have been established between the Ministry for Co-operation and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs; the mandate of the Minister with responsibility for Co-operation has been extended to cover all the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries and South Africa; and the respective responsibilities and policy sectors of the Ministry for Co-operation and the French Development Fund (Caisse française de développement -- CFD) have been redefined.

Another of the announced reforms was the establishment of an Interministerial Committee for Development Assistance (Comité interministériel de l'aide au développement -- CIAD), chaired by the Prime Minister. The purpose of the CIAD is to define the orientations, in terms of both goals and arrangements, of bilateral and multilateral ODA. The work and decisions of this Committee should help strengthen the links between France's overall policy on development co-operation and its operational programmes. The first meeting of the CIAD, in June 1996, focused on aid quality and led to the creation of a working party to evaluate the effectiveness of French aid, analysing the actions of each government department. The working party is to report on its findings at the second meeting of the CIAD, and to propose measures to enhance aid effectiveness.

At the policy level and in parallel with the fundamental changes taking place nationally and internationally, recent thinking has produced a resolve to tailor aid policy and the aid system to the conditions and needs that now prevail. This new awareness has coincided with the process of reflection within the DAC in 1995 and 1996, during which France contributed substantially to the policy guidelines adopted by the DAC in Shaping the 21st Century: The Contribution of Development Co-operation. These guidelines now serve as a benchmark for France's policy and strategy on development assistance.

Putting that guidance into practice clearly requires a substantial effort on the part of the French government, in particular to make the system more coherent and transparent, and to make aid instruments less complex. The services concerned realise that much of this effort must also focus on issues involving the training, recruitment and consciousness-raising of their personnel. More specialist personnel are needed in key sectors, and the shift towards a partnership approach with recipient countries has to be sustained. The lessons learned from development co-operation in the past show that a change in approach is required by all donors, from programme design right through to delivery. Given France's historical ties with many of its co-operation partners, such change may prove more difficult for France than for other donors. Hence the vital importance of ensuring that reform commitments are rigorously fulfilled. While the CIAD is expected to play a major role here, strengthening policy dialogue with partner countries will be a decisive factor.

Since the previous review of French aid on 30 March 1994, new systems of ex post evaluation have been introduced and existing ones reformed. However, some aid services have little experience of evaluating the effectiveness and impact of aid, and feedback procedures (applying evaluation findings to new aid programmes) are not always in use. Extending the practices of country programming and ex post evaluation to all services concerned, along with systematic feedback of evaluation results, will help to improve aid quality. An effort is also needed with regard to the recruitment process and the provision of specialist training for personnel charged with designing and implementing aid programmes to meet the demanding sectoral goals set in Shaping the 21st Century: The Contribution of Development Co-operation.

Partnerships, poverty alleviation and donor co-ordination

Locally owned development The idea of a partnership with recipients of French development assistance has been understood and accepted by the government services concerned. As in most donor countries, the implementation of this idea needs to be pursued, along with the necessary adjustments to the French aid management system. Such changes will affect bilateral co-operation at every level. There must be on-going policy dialogue to determine what France can contribute to each partner's development strategy, in the form of a country programme. Programmes and projects will also have to be identified and framed to fit the recipient's development strategy and France's country programme. With the exception of the (former) 'ambit' countries (so named because they fall within the ambit of the Ministry for Co-operation) -- where medium-term orientations (Orientations à moyen terme -- OMT) are used as a planning tool -- France does not yet have any formal medium-term country programmes. For other partner countries, projects to be financed by French aid are selected on the basis of requests from recipients and the aid instruments available. Discussions with partner countries in joint commissions should go beyond the identification and execution of projects.

As observed in Shaping the 21st Century: The Contribution of Development Co-operation, a genuine partnership with recipient countries implies that both partners assume certain responsibilities. One is that developing countries pursue policies aimed at economic and social stability, without which there can be no development. With this end in view, France has made it a pre-condition for its non-project aid that partner countries work within the structural adjustment programmes negotiated with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) (Abidjan doctrine, 1993). While respecting France's special relationships and its determination to ensure the continuity of its co-operation with and funding for partner countries, it seems necessary to pursue the rationalisation of the aid system and the instruments used for the different categories of aid recipients. With regard to the Overseas Territories (Territoires d'outre-mer -- TOMs), which receive a large share of French aid, it would seem that these too should benefit from the reforms recently undertaken by the government to enhance the effectiveness of French development assistance.

Poverty alleviation The first of the central quantitative goals adopted by DAC Members in May 1996 is that 'the proportion of people living in extreme poverty in developing countries should be reduced by at least one-half by 2015' (the World Bank sets the threshold of extreme poverty at $370 per capita in annual income). To date, France's principal means of alleviating poverty has been to focus bilateral and multilateral aid on poor countries, promote economic growth and target specific activities towards the most vulnerable groups. But meeting the new, ambitious structural goal within each country will mean rethinking this model, adapting instruments and modes of co-operation, and more systematically evaluating the impact of aid. There is a need to promote a pattern of growth and human development in which the poor can participate. This rethinking process, based on past successes and failures, is a fundamental challenge that will have to be taken up by the donor community as a whole, in close co-operation with governments and civil society in partner countries.

Grants from France's Social Development Fund (Fonds social de développement -- FSD), administered by French aid missions in the field, target the most underprivileged segments of the population and their experience could pave the way for more local initiatives ('assistance de proximité'). Greater involvement of the non-governmental sector in France's aid programmes could be a step in the right direction for the French aid system. By making more resources available to the French ASIs and allowing them some say in the framing of aid policy for social sectors, France can also test the potential contributions of these actors in poverty alleviation. French ASI programmes complement the aid activities of French local authorities and can also contribute to an expanded participation by societies in recipient countries.

A reduction in the number of people living in poverty can only be achieved if there is sustained economic growth and a fall in the birth rate, as demonstrated by the many countries that have managed to leave the ranks of the poorer countries. Yet in some African countries, gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is flat or declining because of very high population growth.

For a more direct impact in reducing the number of people living in extreme poverty, it is important to develop a strategy for improving the economic circumstances and social standing of women, who form the majority of the poor, but make major contributions to the economy through their work. To date, the French aid system does not have a specific programme to promote the welfare and role of women, as envisaged at the high-level meeting of the DAC in 1995 and the Beijing Conference on Women in September 1995. Appropriate methods and services should be introduced to check whether French-funded programmes and projects are helping, directly or indirectly, to alleviate poverty, in particular among women.

Donor co-ordination Enhanced aid co-ordination, both in multilateral fora and on the ground, is one of the goals set by DAC Members in their May 1996 declaration. France participates actively in virtually all meetings held by donors to exchange information. This is particularly clear in its relations with the former 'ambit' countries, where France has stepped up its participation in IMF and World Bank programmes since the devaluation of the CFA franc in early 1994 and where a number of programmes are now being cofinanced by France and other bilateral donors. However, donor co-ordination efforts should now aim at a much higher quotient of dialogue with partner countries concerning their own development strategies.
III. Involvement of the French public In spite of the considerable contribution that French taxpayers make to development assistance, the initial impression is that French public opinion is not particularly interested in development co-operation issues. Such issues are seldom raised in the press. In Parliament, there is a consensus on maintaining a high level of aid, even though only a handful of parliamentarians are experts on the subject. Neither the National Assembly nor the Senate has a special commission on development assistance.

Yet a closer study of French society reveals a large number of groups that maintain links with developing countries, particularly in Africa. They uphold a wide range of interests, from trade (exports, investment, resource exploitation) to humanitarian aid and long-term co-operation. Over the past few years, the French national authorities have been stepping up their co-operation with these groups, in particular with local authorities and ASIs, in the field of development assistance. Recognising that such groups have special capabilities for supporting local initiatives which supplement country-to-country aid, the national authorities intend to make more systematic use of these capabilities in future and at the same time enhance the funding leverage which they can provide.

Local authorities and ASIs Although decentralised co-operation by France's local authorities, including public cofinancing, is not yet large in terms of volume, nor in terms of the number of recipient countries, it is set to expand in the years to come. French local authorities will be assisting their partners in developing countries in their efforts to 'deconcentrate'. In so doing, they will be helping to promote grassroots democracy and the involvement of local populations in sustainable development. To improve co-ordination between official assistance and ASI initiatives, France has recently set up a Joint Orientation and Programming Committee, in which the government and ASIs discuss programmes that receive public funds. ASIs will become more involved in the framing of aid policy thanks to 'Les assises de la co-opération et de la solidarité', a major national conference on co-operation and solidarity to be held in 1997.

Conclusions The DAC noted positively a number of strong points in France's policy and programme of development assistance:

  • DAC Members appreciate France's efforts to ensure that issues involving co-operation with developing countries maintain or take on a high international profile, in particular at the G7 Summit in Lyon in July 1996.

  • The determination, at the highest political level, to pursue the reform and the improvement of the French aid system in terms of simplicity, clarity, transparency and effectiveness.

  • The other DAC Members fully appreciated France's efforts to maintain its aid volume well above the DAC average and to reduce the debt burden on French aid recipients. The Committee also noted France's constancy of support for multilateral aid programmes.

  • A major bilateral aid effort is directed towards poor countries, with a significant share of the volume going to education and health care. In these sectors, the DAC noted an increasing shift away from aid based on substitution towards a partnership approach, with the essential aim of placing donor-recipient relations on a contractual basis, implying mutual obligations.

  • There is close collaboration, including through the cofinancing of activities, with the Bretton Woods institutions, particularly in Africa.

  • Personnel in the various services display a high level of administrative skills, notably with regard to aid for Africa. Rooted in strong personal and moral commitment, this positive attitude in government could be usefully turned to implementing the current reforms, many of which call for sweeping changes in each service's traditional working methods.

  • These strong points in France's aid system can serve as a reference for other donors.

  • In reviewing France's aid programme, the DAC also identified a few weak points and changes required in the bilateral assistance programme, while noting that many of them are being addressed in the reforms that have been announced. The weak points to which the Committee will be returning in its next Peer Review of France are as follows:

  • The benefits to be gained by more clearly linking France's overarching policy for development assistance with its operational programmes.

  • The need to adopt an ambitious strategy of assistance in the social sectors, especially relating to gender equality, family planning, education and health care.

  • The need to work out a specific strategy for the struggle against poverty and, more generally, to put in place medium-term country programmes for a larger number of recipients.

  • The need to solidify a genuine partnership with every country receiving French aid. Together with a contractual approach, there should be stronger and deeper policy dialogue to enable developing countries to participate fully in the selection and implementation of French-funded programmes.

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