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What can we expect from France at Gleneagles?

The longstanding ties between France and its former colonies in Africa may finally be giving way to something else. Although little acknowledged, the 1990s saw a massive decrease in French aid to Africa and essentially saw the end of most of the so-called ‘relations spéciales’ between France and Africa. As Tony Blair travels to Paris today ahead of the G8 what can he expect?
This partly depends on: What are the main trends in France’s aid policy to Africa?
1. Decreasing aid volume and share: French aid to Africa fell as overall ODA fell from from $5000m in 1994 to under $3000m in 2001. The government has since reversed these trends.
2. A less special relationship: In both a diplomatic sense and in terms of economic realities there has been a major decline in the special relationship between France and Africa.
3. New aid modalities: France is now strongly in favour of a balanced approach between grants and loans. There is a move toward mutual funding and basket funding as well as budgetary or programme support.
4. An increased, though not exclusive, emphasis on poverty and the MDGs. Traditionally, a number of things have driven France’s Africa aid policy: History, especially colonialism: helps explain the priority given to Francophone Africa in France’s ODA policy although this has been weakening over time. France’s foreign policy interests: have remained strong, given the role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in aid policy. France’s commercial interests: are also important–economic Ministries are part of policymaking – and are increasing over time. France’s domestic economic problems: are likely to limit the scope for dramatic aid increases in the future despite the rhetoric. Executive autonomy: the French presidency is important in setting priorities. Given this, what should we expect? Since 2002, the Chirac presidency has put a renewed emphasis on Africa and French aid is one of its five priorities. There are some broad areas of convergence between French and UK positions on Africa – in terms of the importance of Africa and achieving the MDGs, as well as towards new aid approaches and specific support for the International Financing Facility. France is also proposing a linked tax on air travel. There are also areas of divergence. Although a deal was reached over the weekend by the G8 finance ministers, France has been reluctant to support the Commission for Africa proposal of total debt forgiveness. In particular, however, there is French sensitivity regarding agricultural subsidies and liberalisation.

At the end of the day, France and the UK agree far more than they disagree when it comes to aid and development in Africa. The crunch will be whether the two countries can overcome their current disputes over Europe by the G8 summit in early July.

Source: This is taken from a synthesis paper by the author but is based on background paper by Vincent Géronimi. (http://www.odi.org.uk/rapid/Projects/RAP0011/index.html).