Version classiqueVersion mobile

France, Europe and Development Aid. From the Treaties of Rome to the Present Day

Gérard Bossuat
Gordon D. Cummings


Gérard Bossuat

Texte intégral

1This symposium, marking the 70th anniversary of the French Development Agency (AFD), focuses upon two development aid actors, France and Europe, and the countries of the South which receive aid. It offers readers an overview of official development aid policies from 1945 to the present day. It explores the origins of aid, its forms and methods, and the motives behind development aid policies. A new actor – the European Community – emerged on the scene in 1958. Since then, it has always held a special position, challenging the traditional role of states. Competition and innovation in development matters become the focus of national and European actors, which are in fact one and the same but with different interests.

The Origins of European Aid

2Development aid is nothing new to Europeans, who received aid via the US European Recovery Programme, the Marshall Plan, between 1948 and 1951. The pursuit of modernisation, developed by the Truman administration, upheld by the Keynesian ideas of the time, and supported in France by de Gaulle and Monnet, led Europeans to the so-called “Thirty Glorious Years”. This modernisation was intended to raise people’s living standards closer to those of the “land of plenty”, the United States. Great things were achieved: the economy grew at a pace which has never been repeated. Would the era of the Thirty Glorious Years forever be our paradise lost? Western Europe or the Europe of Six and every metropolitan country with overseas territories could draw inspiration from this experience when they came to embark on the development of underdeveloped territories. The Marshall Plan was a chance for the American Government to demand the development of the overseas territories and secure free access to them, even if that caused some tension with France (Morocco, New Caledonia).

3In 1957, EEC treaty negotiators accepted the participation of the French, Belgian and Dutch overseas territories in the new Community and envisaged the possibility of development aid, even if – at least in France’s case – aid matters already fell under the remit of the Jean Monnet modernisation plan and of an instrument called the Caisse centrale de coopération économique (CCCE). The development of these territories was planned to take the form of “joint” or “co-development” even though France had neither the budget nor the sufficient capital to make this happen.

4The birth of the EEC led to tensions within the political machinery of the Fourth Republic. Some of the actors regarded the Community’s involvement in the development of the overseas territories as an unacceptable intrusion (Georges Boris against Eurafrica). But the French Government, led by the socialist Guy Mollet, brought the French overseas territories into the Common Market : “The overseas territories are in or that’s it, there’s no Common Market!” is what Gaston Defferre and Jacques Chaban-Delmas also declared. At first the Dutch were against the idea, refusing to be “taxed” on behalf of the French colonies. Other partners refused to join in the colonial disputes. The Germans demanded that the colonised countries themselves be involved in the joint development work. They tried to buy their way out of further commitments through the payment of a capital sum in favour of the overseas territories, which would have avoided granting them trade preferences. But so much was at stake in the “European” Common Market that the Auswärtiges Amt agreed to inter-European cooperation in Africa. The entry of the overseas territories was achieved late on, in February 1957, a month before the treaty was signed, evidence of the tough negotiating.

5Why did the French want them included? A note to a French Government department gives the reasons: “To ensure acceptance of arrangements which meet political concerns and prepare for the future in economic terms”. Associating the overseas territories with the Common Market was a cheap way of winning allies in international relations and helping France to disengage from its overseas involvement. It satisfied the requirement to include the overseas territories in a larger trade area. More specifically, France agreed to renounce its preferences in the French Union in return for its partners’ participation in the cost of developing its overseas territories. The American Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, recognised that the Common Market was contributing to the economic development of the African territories on the basis of equality and mutual interest. A European Development Fund (EDF) was created, endowed with $ 581.25 million, of which $ 512 million was destined for the French overseas territories over a five year period. The French and German contributions were set at $ 200 million each. The customs tariffs of the Six were cut by 30% in the case of imports from the overseas territories, and the customs tariffs of the overseas territories were set freely in relation to the Six. The European Commission became responsible for managing development aid and international trade negotiations. The economic development of the underdeveloped countries ceased to be a national monopoly.

The Ways and Means of Development Aid

6A series of agreements ensued between the European Community and the African, Caribbean and Pacific States, the ACP. There were nine successive EDFs. The idea was to prevent conflict and abandon neo-colonial relations. The Community effort and bilateral national aid (0.5% of GNP) exceeded the efforts made by the United States (0.18%) and Japan (0.32%). The two types of aid did work, even though there was some competition between French and EDF funding (with rivalry over the development of the ports of Cotonou and Lomé as well as the construction of two competing cement works at Malbaza in Niger and Sokoto in Nigeria).

7The EIB was another institution created by the Treaty of Rome; anticipated since 1949, its role was to coordinate private investment and correct the imbalances resulting from the relaxation of exchange controls. It lent funds within the Community but also contributed to development aid. Since 1990 it has funded projects for the economic development of Central and Eastern European countries.

8The European Union is motivated by the hope of participating effectively in the development and new governance of the countries of the South. Although criticised from the start by European countries not keen to become involved in the South because of their totally different history, this relationship between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific States (ACP) is a legacy of the history of Europe and the South. It indicates the development route adopted by the Union. However, it will be necessary to measure the effectiveness of European and French development aid practices, to understand whether the development players in the countries receiving the aid are involved in the mechanisms of the Aid and Cooperation Fund (ACF), the CCCE or the EDF, since the aid instruments all originate from the North. Have multilateral aid practices proved more productive for growth and human development than bilateral aid? Who has benefited from the development aid? Is there any attempt to ensure coherence between EDF aid and bilateral aid?

Reasons for Development Aid

9It has emerged from discussions with some European officials and from university research that the European Community aimed to display “solidarity” and “responsibility” towards the newly independent states. Development, packaged in third world ideology to distance it from colonialism and neo-colonialism, became the key to Community action in 1960-1970. Yet the liberal, capitalist approach to international relations was never in doubt. Europeans saw the European Community as Europe’s second chance to undo its colonial past of domination over other cultures. The political literature sometimes stresses the humiliation of receiving aid, despite the real benefits it provides, and accuses aid of being a neo-colonial practice. Is not the integration of developing countries into the global commercial and financial system a form of financial imperialism which is just as dangerous as the old imperialism?

10There are two key protagonists in this symposium: the European Union and France. Expert speakers have taken on the task of explaining the role of the CCCE in Development Aid. But why grant aid? We remember the provocative words of Raymond Cartier, the Paris-Match columnist: “Corrèze before the Zambeze”, concerning development priorities. In response, successive French governments have always endeavoured to justify development aid. The following arguments regularly appear and it is hard to rank them in order of importance. Some are more likely to come from aid practitioners. Aid only makes sense if it benefits the population, which, in turn, implies the need for checks on how it is used, and friction with some governments. The reasons put forward are moral, political and philosophical. The historical argument also counts. In the eyes of many, the historical links justify the aid that France provides. The end of the colonial era does not mean the end of Franco-African relations, because colonial domination created links of all kinds. Aid is a form of responsibility on the part of the current generation towards the peoples colonised by previous generations. Those in favour of French development aid argue that it is reasonable because it can avert the threat of chaos. One argument endures: the spread of the French language in the name of access to the modern world. There was an argument surrounding the defence of the free world, but that has been replaced by one based on the war on terror and in favour of universal human rights enshrined in the United Nations Charter, values which one would expect to be shared by the new independent countries and elites trained in the western university system.

11Let us summarise France’s motives: aid is necessary for humanitarian and moral reasons; it corresponds to national cultural and economic interests; it forms part of the system of French influence in international relations. In the long term, it looks like the ultimate adjustment by a European State in search of its destiny.

12What is the meaning of French development aid in 2012? What policy do member states and the Commission aim to pursue with regard to development? Does aid still make sense in a liberalised economic area where private sector initiatives are pre-eminent?

13The presentations on the beginnings of European development aid (1957-1975), the extension of the European Community’s aid agreements and the new aid paradigms (1975-1995), the questioning of the European approach to development (1995-2010), and the future of European and French aid thus help to provide a long-term historical picture of development aid. Development aid is a clear indication of the way in which our societies conceive international relations, which are not merely the expression of economic power relationships and human indifference. The budgets of member states and of the EU reflect this conception of international relations.


Gérard Bossuat is emeritus professor of contemporary history at the University of Cergy-Pontoise, Jean Monnet chair ad personam in the history of European integration. He created the Masters Degrees in History and Management of the Cultural Heritage (DESS) at Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, and European Studies and International Relations at the University of Cergy-Pontoise. He is a member of the editorial board of the Revue de l’histoire de l’intégration européenne and Matériaux pour l’histoire de notre temps (BDIC), of the boards of directors of the Jean Monnet Foundation for Europe (Lausanne) and the Jean Monnet Association (Paris), and of the Scientific Council of the Pierre Mendès-France Institute (Paris). Author of La France, l’aide américaine et la construction européenne, 1945-1954, (Comité pour l’histoire économique et financière de la France, 1992) and a number of works or articles on the Fourth Republic, European integration and relations between the United States and Europe, Gérard Bossuat recently published a professional biography of Émile Noël, premier secrétaire général de la Commission européenne (Bruylant, De Boeck, 2011). His latest book concerns La France et la construction de l’unité européenne, de 1919 à nos jours (Armand Colin). He is an associate member of the UMR IRICE (Paris I, Paris IV, CNRS).

© Institut de la gestion publique et du développement économique, 2013

Conditions d’utilisation :

Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search