• Mark Angelo Locsin and Andrew David Alimpuangon

A Shot in the Arm? French ODA and the Indo-Pacific Potential of Franco-Filipino Relations

Photo Source: The Philippine Star

As the third largest country in Europe, France with its current republican system of government under the Fifth Republic (1958-present) has continued to evolve in the 21st century. With Paris as its locus of national political power and its cultural and economic center, the Fifth French Republic can be characterized as an institutional mix of a strong executive branch and a weak legislature that highlights the prominent role of the state. The politics of the Fifth French Republic underpins the principles of representative democracy while espousing unchecked executive power, unlike other Western democracies.

Considering its internal makeup, however, is the Republic of France judiciously positioned in extending official development assistance (ODA) to other countries? Can the Philippines benefit from French development aid? Accordingly, France can use ODA for military cooperation but the French choose the shots they take.

The main implementing agency of French ODA is the French Development Agency (AFD), concurrently a public institution in charge of putting French ODA policy into effect and a development bank in charge of public policy missions with their respective and specific objectives and performance targets. There is also a division of tasks between the AFD and the Ministry of European and Foreign Affairs on development aid as the former concentrates on reducing poverty, promoting economic development, and preserving public global goods while the latter focuses on promoting the rule of law, institutional reform, education, and cultural and scientific cooperation. Additionally, the Ministry of the Economy and Finance also serves a major role in coordinating and managing French ODA. Today, France continues to provide aid in many areas and has used several delivery channels for official development assistance via the bilateral, European, and multi-lateral levels. In sum, France’s influence and its ability to promote its interests in the international system require reactive bilateral cooperation and multi-level frameworks that are committed to European and international institutions.

According to the 2018 Committee on International Cooperation and Development conclusions, the inter-ministerial committee is committed to strengthening France’s ODA in the areas of international stability, climate change, education, gender equality, and global health. France also prioritizes security and anti-terrorism, primarily in the Sahel region of Africa where French development projects are aligned with France’s military and political interventions. Furthermore, the focus of France’s ODA allocation is centered on 19 countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, while relying on ODA loans from emerging economies. In 2017, the African continent received 41% of French bilateral and multi-lateral funds worth €4.1 billion — €3 billion of which went to the sub-Saharan region. As the fifth-largest ODA donor country, President Macron is also keen on increasing French official development assistance levels via 0.55% of gross national income (GNI) by 2022 as France’s mission can be achieved through an increase in donations and bilateral assistance. France’s ODA mainly consists of grants that account for 77% of total net ODA in 2017 and loans that account for 23% of overall French ODA. Appropriately, France’s ODA also varies depending on the partner country’s level of income: whereas loans are allocated to emerging economies, grants are distributed to low-income countries. Given all these figures and institutions, France is committed to supporting and sustaining official development assistance in relation to foreign aid via a broad range of approaches to achieve French objectives.

The French government's ODA policy commitment to joint initiatives that emphasize humanitarian assistance, foreign aid, climate change, global education, gender equality, and global health has guided France’s long-term development policy. Regarding policy considerations and restrictions, France gives priority to development aid in countries that organize democratic elections on a regular basis, respect human rights, and fight corruption. Furthermore, a partner country must have a sound political base that serves as a prerequisite for successful development programs and promotes democratic governance through cooperation priorities including promoting democracy, the rule of law, individual freedoms, gender equality, and government transparency domestically, regionally, and internationally. If a country wishes to receive French official development assistance, it must share the same values as the French Republic. Hence, there are also limitations set on recipient countries as the common European principles that guide French external action bar transactions with otherwise hostile states. As a member of the European Union (EU) and a signatory to the Treaty of Lisbon, France is also guided by similar EU principles internationally such as the universality of human rights and international law. Furthermore, the Treaty mentions that EU member-states must seek to develop relations with developing countries that share similar principles, discouraging the French government to pledge development aid to states deemed incompatible for not sharing the same standards of behavior.

All things considered, the French ODA policy has four main objectives: first, it must promote sustainable and equitable growth for the poorest countries; second, it must cooperate with emerging countries, including Brazil and China, for France’s economic and strategic interests; third, it must participate in the financing of European and multi-lateral actions aimed at dealing with global challenges; and fourth, it must help countries face crises resulting from either natural catastrophes or political and military conflicts. In addition to these objectives, France’s foreign aid also focuses on four other challenges: the promotion of growth that creates jobs and improves living standards, the fight against poverty and reducing inequality in relation to France’s commitments to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, the preservation of public goods by managing climate change, biodiversity loss, the spread of infectious diseases and by improving financial stability, and the promotion of political stability and the rule of law.

While French ODA can be used to promote rule of law and foster strategic and comprehensive partnerships with countries that share the same values, development aid can also be used for military cooperation as French official development assistance is evidently consistent with its other interests and priorities in the areas of security, anti-terrorism, and even humanitarian assistance. This alignment of French security assistance activities has entailed French military and political interventions primarily in the Sahel region of Africa. Evidently, Africa may be the priority for French ODA but the Philippines can also potentially benefit from French development aid primarily in the areas of economics, security, and environmental assistance. Perhaps as a result of a possible motivation for France to become more active in the Indo-Pacific, the country can engage with the Philippines on shared and common values as it further navigates the emerging dynamics in the region. However, the Philippines today is viewed unfavorably by the International Criminal Court while international pressure from a 2020 United Nations report on human rights violations and the alleged death toll of police and vigilante operations in the country has also resulted in a forthcoming independent human rights probe. A major caveat, then, is France’s commitment to democratic values and upholding human rights on foreign policy — if France does not see the Philippines as a developing country that shares the same values and principles, and if the Philippines is unable to meet French expectations, then it is likely that the French government will be discouraged from pledging development aid. While there is potential in Franco-Filipino relations to partly shape the dynamics in the Indo-Pacific, France and the Philippines must first give it a shot.


Mark Angelo C. Locsin is an MA student in International Studies (European) at De La Salle University. He is also an independent consultant working on academic research projects on foreign policy. His areas of interest are the European state system, securitization theory, and norm research. He finished his BA in International Studies at DLSU and was the recipient of the Best Thesis Award for his research on UN securitization.

Andrew David R. Alimpuangon is an independent consultant working on academic research about foreign policy. His research area is European Affairs. He finished his BA in International Studies Major in European Studies at De La Salle University and was the recipient of the Gawad Col. Jesus Villamor for his contributions and leadership in military service.

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