Africa and development have been high on French President Emmanuel Macron’s agenda since he was elected one year ago. He has visited Africa nine times in nine months, created a new advisory body — the Presidential Council for Africa — and set a goal to increase aid to 0.55 percent of GNI by 2022.
While this number is still below the international target of 0.7 percent and will only put France fourth in the ranking of donors (replacing Japan, but still behind Germany, United Kingdom, and United States in absolute terms), it’s still a significant figure for international development.
First, it is the most ambitious and specific commitment from a French president to date; promises to reach 0.7 percent in the past were never accompanied by such a precise deadline, let alone a trajectory.
Second, this will increase aid levels to a high that France hasn’t been able to meet for over 20 years.
Third, and maybe most importantly, aid increases by governments are becoming more rare. These days cuts are more likely than increases. Even where aid commitments remain high — for instance, U.K. keeping 0.7 percent — Macron is likely to be the only leader with a war chest to influence international development.
His aid commitments will bring in 6 billion euros of fresh money over the next few years — money France can invest freely — which is exactly why France is in such a unique position to influence the course of international development today.
The challenge will be to use this power wisely and to ensure that aid increases are not only invested as effectively as possible to fight extreme poverty, but also to help mobilize other actors. Leadership is more important now than ever. One test for Macron’s leadership on development, and the international scene in general, will be the European Union’s Multiannual Financial Framework, the EU’s financial plan for the next seven years.
The European Union — meaning EU institutions and member states taken together — is the biggest donor in the world. This budget will decide whether they are on track to reach the collective commitment of allocating 0.7 percent of their collective GNI to development and whether they will help the world achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. The MFF will end in 2027, only three years before the SDG deadline.
Today on average, 20 percent of member states’ ODA is being channeled through EU budget. If this ratio remains the same, and the EU achieves its target to spend 0.7 percent of members states combined GNI on ODA by 2030, then the new MFF will need to include at least 40 billion euros more aid than the past long-term budget — a 40 percent increase on current EU external spending.
While this might sound like a huge, possibly overly optimistic increase, it’s only the basic minimum needed.
In its global strategy, the EU recognizes growing development needs. For instance, the past MFF was finalized before the Paris Agreement on climate, and didn’t fully anticipate the challenges posed by migration, mainly to developing countries, an issue Europe is more aware of now than it was seven years ago.
Though Brexit raises questions about the EU’s role at an international level, it also provides more room for the EU to maneuver and assert itself. To reach the global player level the EU so desires, it will need a very strong external budget, and a radical increase in EU aid to the tune of at least 40 billion euros compared to the past MFF.
Macron said, “foreign policy, and a partnership with Africa, a development policy that must guide us in founding a far-reaching project based on mutual investment, education, health, and energy. If Europe fails to seize this opportunity, others will, and if nothing is done, Europe alone will face all of the consequences.”
Now, Macron needs to translate this into a financial reality — speaking up in favor of an MFF that sets the EU on track for the 0.7 percent.