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

Gérard Bossuat
Gordon D. Cummings

Beginnings of European Development Aid (1957-1975)


Gérard Bossuat, Guia Migani, Véronique Dimier et Dieter Frisch

Note de l’éditeur

Moderator: Gérard Bossuat

Texte intégral

1Gérard Bossuat
To start the discussion, I would like to put a first question to Guia Migani: did the EEC association agreements with black Africa come about because of concerns for the Third World on the part of European societies in the 1960s?

2Guia Migani
I would say that EEC members were not so much acting out of a new awareness of the Third World as responding to the fact that the Third World had become an international actor that had to be reckoned with. After Bandung things were not the same as before, so there was a need to consider this actor which was making its presence felt on the international scene and initiating a United Nations conference on Trade and Development. People were asserting their position. Relations with the associated African countries had to be viewed through a Third World prism because those countries were part of the Third World but at the same time they did not entirely belong to it. They were still dependent on France and Belgium. In fact, here we are asking what is Europe’s role. Should the European Community focus its action on the associated countries, on Africa and then the ACP countries, or should it look at the Third World as a whole? That is a debate which has been around for a long time. We [in Europe] began with a regionalist approach, because aid was devoted solely to the associated African countries, and little by little we extended our activities to other Third World countries, particularly after Britain joined but also thanks to Claude Cheysson, the Development Commissioner. In my opinion, the EEC is still organising relations with the Third World on a regional basis. Since regionalism has worked well for Europe, it is trying to promote it in other Third World regions. So it is expanding its relations with the Third World, but doing so on a regional basis, namely by regional programmes for Latin America or Asia.

3Véronique Dimier
The people from that period whom I interviewed did not talk about the Third World. It was not a concept that was used. The term Third World covers a whole concept, a doctrine, an ideology, a biased view; in any case it is ideological. The question was not asked in that way at the time.

4Gérard Bossuat
At the time when the Treaties of Rome were being negotiated, there were Africans in Guy Mollet’s government, and so I wonder whether they were kept informed. Did they play a role? How do you see the relationship among the Africans as a group? Did they adopt common positions?

5Guia Migani
Yes, there were Africans in the government. In fact, they did have a role to play; for example, Houphouët-Boigny was sent to Brussels at the time of the negotiations to convince the Germans and Dutch that it was necessary to develop activities in African colonies and those activities should not take the form of a colonial gesture.

6Gérard Bossuat
What were their arguments?

7Guia Migani
Africa was the argument! Europe must display solidarity with Africa. There was this complementarity. It was a fairly dated, rather colonial argument.

8Gérard Bossuat
Yes, it was more than dated. But at that time were people still talking about Eurafrique?

9Guia Migani
In 1957, in France, yes, but in my opinion only among the French elite.

10Gérard Bossuat
And the African elite? Did they accept this concept or not?

11Guia Migani
Some African leaders perhaps, but in my opinion, as soon as those countries became independent, Eurafrique was shelved.

12Véronique Dimier
Senghor, for example, was not against Eurafrique. He definitely wanted all countries to be fully integrated, i.e. represented in the Commission and the Parliament, to be represented within the Community institutions in the same way as France. That is why this rather bizarre idea of association (you are associates but you do not have entirely the same rights) was a bit like the great French Community: you are all citizens but you do not all have the same rights. It was taking things a bit too far, and the worst thing was that in 1956, despite the Defferre framework laws granting these territories a great deal of autonomy, with elected assemblies, and governments which became accountable to parliaments, not everyone was consulted. They did not even attend the Union debates …

13Gérard Bossuat
All the same I am a bit surprised…

14Véronique Dimier
They were not present, and many members of parliament at the time noticed this kind of thing and were very shocked. You will see it all in the articles from those days.

15Guia Migani
The concept confronting African leaders after 1957-1958 was not really Eurafrica, but pan-Africanism. And there was that slightly ambiguous relationship with English-speaking countries and EEC countries, because the associated countries did not want their exports to lose the right to enter the EEC freely, and above all, they did not want to share that privilege with other African countries; but at the same time, they wanted this concept of pan-Africanism. It was actually rather complicated. They did agree to African common markets, but not immediately.

16Gérard Bossuat
That’s very interesting, because often, in French historical accounts, at least in those most familiar to me, we perhaps put too much emphasis on the Franco-African aspect, whereas today there are other factors involved, such as pan-Africanism, etc. Did African leaders or opinion leaders who did not favour a particular relationship between Europe and Africa join in the debate?

17Véronique Dimier
Yes, and they were critical, because Ghana was very strongly opposed to association, which it regarded as the continuation of France’s colonial relations with its empire, and Nigeria too, at the time, not least since it was on opposite sides from France in the Biafran war. There were political interests which made English-speaking elites very strongly opposed to association and they stayed that way until 1964. Men from DG Development and Claude Cheysson went on tours, taking with them new British colonial administrators, to convince English-speaking African elites that this was not a new colonial pact but a major new solidarity project. The same approach had been followed in the 1960s to convince the French-speaking elites.

18Guia Migani
The two main sources of these criticisms were the Economic Commission for Africa, a regional commission which came under the UN Economic and Social Committee. That was the first place where pan-African economic cooperation was discussed. Evidently, the special cooperation in the form of the association of certain African countries with the EEC caused problems for the creation of common pan-African economic structures. That was actually the source of major criticisms.

19Gérard Bossuat
Did they have an impact on the Treaty of Rome negotiators? It doesn’t seem that way to me.

20Guia Migani
The ECA (Economic Commission for Africa) was set up after the Treaty of Rome negotiations, so that happened afterwards. The ECA was important, its Director, Robert Gardiner, saw the proposed participation of English-speaking countries in negotiations to renew the Yaoundé Convention as an opportunity to bring African states together. He worked closely with the British to block the efforts of the Commonwealth Secretary General, who was against association for English-speaking African countries.

21Gérard Bossuat
Thank you. We shall now move on in time. In your presentation, I noticed that you only mentioned Jacques Ferrandi. It looks as if there wasn’t anyone else, but I don’t think that’s true. Can you name some figures who played a role in Euro-African relations?

22Véronique Dimier
You must realise that there was very severe tension within DG Development all the same. There was a small central group of economists recruited by Jean Durieux, who were pushing for more rational ways of choosing projects in terms of planning, selection and criteria that were increasingly being developed by the World Bank. At first, these players had little power because Ferrandi was so dominant. Even those who didn’t like him could agree that he really was the leading figure within DG Development. This small team of economists just got on with it and ultimately had to wait for the first enlargement before gaining a little bit of power. From 1973, Cheysson recruited his team from among Jean Durieux’s people, economists who would help him enlarge the association.

23Gérard Bossuat
The interesting thing is that you say “these were economists”, it’s the economists who govern us, we know!

24Véronique Dimier
These were people trained in economics, not trained as colonial administrators.

25Gérard Bossuat
Could you give us some names?

26Véronique Dimier
Yes, facing me in this room is Mr Dieter Frisch. But Philippe Soubestre, Hantz Smida and Giorgio Bonacci were there too. Bonacci was the first statistician recruited by Dieter Frisch’s team to organise the first programmes locally. And these were fairly arbitrary programmes because in 1974 he was asked to draw up, amidst the greatest secrecy, criteria for giving as much money to the former English-speaking countries as to the former French-speaking countries. He had to act very fast to set up criteria for sharing out the money in order to avoid criticism from the British to the effect that ex-French colonies were getting more money than the ex-British colonies. That said, once he was in Africa he had to enter into negotiations since Houphouët-Boigny did not want his budget to be cut in favour of the British, and English-speaking elites definitely did not want their budget to be smaller than that of French-speaking elites. So all these criteria went by the board, and in the end it was Cheysson who negotiated the budgets for the various countries.

27Gérard Bossuat
There are several names that keep recurring; Claude Cheysson is one of them. But you haven’t mentioned Jean-François Deniau. Did he play a role too? Later on, did Edgard Pisani play a role, at least on the French side? As regards other EEC members, do you know of any other policies that might have played a role in development aid?

28Véronique Dimier
They all played a role, but were self-effacing to some degree. Mr Rochereau and Mr Deniau were commissioners who had a career in France, so they largely shared their job with Jean Chapperon, their chef de cabinet, who was a former colonial administrator and a very great friend of Ferrandi. They were more or less jointly in charge at DG Development. Cheysson made a much greater impact because he was regarded as something of a gift by France to the British in an attempt to reach a compromise between French and British interests, to ensure that the EDF budget was fairly shared out. So he was someone who made a much greater mark through his role as a mediator and his role as a leader. That said, he would use precisely the same methods as Ferrandi had established for selling association to the new countries. As for Pisani, he was an intellectual. He had lots of ideas, he was going to set up integrated rural policies, small-scale projects along the lines of the colonial projects of 1940-1950, and for good reason, since his political master was Robert Delavignette, the Director of the École Coloniale. Small rural cooperative projects were to be set up. Nowadays, it is hard to say whether there are any traces of that remaining.

29Gérard Bossuat
Can you tell us what happened when Jacques Ferrandi left office?

30Véronique Dimier
Yes, because that sheds a fairly clear light on the person and on the system that he set up. When the British arrived it was decided, by Cheysson in particular, with a view to reaching a compromise, to split the management of the EDF into two, one part being given to a British man, Mr Foley, a politician with a great deal of influence in Africa, and the other to Jacques Ferrandi. That reorganisation meant the end of the great power that Ferrandi had had over his empire (that is how the British described it). To prevent that reorganisation, Ferrandi had asked his African friends – Houphouët-Boigny, Bongo and Senghor – to write to the President of the Republic, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, asking him to bring pressure to bear on the Community institutions, and particularly on the president of the Commission, to put a stop to this reorganisation, which would obviously be prejudicial to French interests and French businesses in Africa. Those letters were sent. Of course, this was unacceptable to the president of the Commission, to the then Commissioner and Director General, Mr Krohn, who demanded Ferrandi’s resignation. That gives a fairly good idea of the highly personalised system based on loyalty and mutual trust between the African elites and these colonial administrators, these “Africanists” within DG Development.

31Gérard Bossuat
Would Mr Frisch like to add anything?

32Dieter Frisch
You can perhaps see from my reactions that I lived through much of this period and I can now make two or three comments. You should know that there was a big issue, right from the start, concerning this association – imposed on the Europeans by France – for the overseas territories, which to my knowledge were not consulted on this. We were wrong to call it “association” because, while the Treaty of Rome does provide for association, it is association with sovereign states. We set off with a term that had ambiguity built into it, which caused a lot of problems with English-speaking countries when they came in. For example, we had to abandon the term “association” in the title of the Lomé Convention because this word was not acceptable to English-speaking countries: it was ambiguous and sounded almost colonial. So the association issue turned into something else with the negotiation of the Yaoundé Convention, because at that point the Africans ministers were there to negotiate. They had a spokesman and very soon a secretariat in Brussels, where they met, and joint institutions were the most important addition to the previous regime.

33As regards what has been said this morning, I would place even more emphasis on the increasing autonomy of the Commission. In the initial years, there was perhaps a need to be close to France because this whole enterprise was initially one that concerned French interests, the others didn’t want it. So it was a matter which France forced onto other partners, and was primarily of interest to France; that caused some frustration right from the start because the Germans and Dutch, in particular, agreed to it against their will. At the time, there were some who wanted a grand policy from the start, but we did not have the resources for that, and up to the 1972 Paris Summit we had this controversy between the globalists who would have liked a global policy to replace Yaoundé, and especially Yaoundé II, which was no longer in favour. And, fortunately, the Paris Summit in 1972 (a key date) resolved this conflict constructively with the aid of the Commission, which had produced an initial memorandum, in 1971, stating that the policy of association had to be pursued by enlarging it, in view of Britain’s accession. But at the same time it was necessary to gradually construct a policy on a global scale.

34In fact, that was when we embarked on a genuine development policy, contrary to what my friend Jacques Ferrandi said. He saw it as the end of development policy, but he was wrong, because a more rational, more structured and more ambitious approach to the European Community’s development policy began with the Lomé Convention.

35I would just like to say a few words about Ferrandi. I have the greatest respect for this man. In her work, Ms Dimier tended to put him very much, perhaps a bit too much, at the centre of events. The main thing I would say is that Ferrandi displayed exemplary loyalty and fidelity towards his colleagues and his superiors, in this case a German Director General Heinrich Hendus, for whom I worked as an assistant at that time. Hendus had given Ferrandi this important job as director of the EDF by merging two directorates. He knew what he was doing, and Ferrandi, a Corsican, with his sense of honour and loyalty, never betrayed that trust. It was sad when he left, but his departure was due to a French commissioner, Claude Cheysson, who wanted to put an end to a reign which he considered outmoded.

36Gérard Bossuat
Thank you very much. Everything you have just said is very useful and interesting, and you have put great emphasis on the importance of this Third World view that I referred to earlier and that came out very clearly in my reading of the archives of the European Commission. I will now hand you back to Ms Migani and Ms Dimier to end this brief discussion.

37Guia Migani
I would just like to add something in line with what Mr Frisch said about the increasing autonomy of the Commission. I would add that, as the negotiations proceeded on the successive conventions, the Commission acquired an increasingly independent role, and, after Lomé, it negotiated in the name of the Nine, while that was not so in the case of Yaoundé. It was the Council of Ministers that had negotiated. With regard to the Lomé Convention, there were also some questions, such as the financial protocol, that remained subject to the control of the Council of Ministers. But the fact that the Commission was the “spokesman” for the Council of Ministers in negotiations with ACP countries meant that it gained a huge degree of autonomy in taking charge of these negotiations.

38I would just like to come back to the various commissioners for a moment. Some of them stand out more because they were helped by a quite specific international situation. That applies to Cheysson (in the 1970s). That was not so in the 1960s or the 1980s. In that sense, I would draw attention more to the content of the various conventions. Mr Frisch may talk about that later. The spirit of Lomé I is different from that of Lomé III or IV.

39Véronique Dimier
I would like to end by talking about the effectiveness of aid. Everyone talks about effectiveness, especially the Member States which, in the 1970s, asked for a major appraisal of Community aid. It took the Commission three years of hard work to produce a report which showed that it is actually very hard to make comparisons, especially as the Member States refused to do the same thing for their own aid. So it is very difficult to make comparisons, but the British used the effectiveness of aid as a weapon to challenge the amount of their EDF contribution.

40So this was a political weapon used by various Member States against the Community, against the autonomy of the Community. It is a concept that wasn’t used in the 1960s, for a very simple reason. Ferrandi would say: “effectiveness in relation to what?”, just as he would say: “the idea behind planning is priority, but everything has priority in Africa”. Who is wrong: those who want more effectiveness or those who subscribe to this discourse? I don’t have the answer, it is just that the idea of effectiveness came at a time when there was competition between different states, and between different clients, the English speakers on the one hand and the French speakers on the other. It was necessary to find a way of saying that aid was less effective in order to redirect part of the aid to the English-speaking countries, and so on. I shall not go into detail, but effectiveness is a political weapon, in the same way as evaluation.

41We can only ask about effectiveness if we have clear development aid criteria and objectives. It is not possible to judge the effectiveness of a project 30 years later, according to criteria which were not the criteria used to select the project. That would be totally stupid. So to say, 40 years later, that all Community projects were ineffective, for example in relation to the aim of poverty reduction, that amounts to saying that Ferrandi aimed to combat poverty. That is far from certain. There were more important political priorities at the time, keeping these countries on the side of the West in the context of the Cold War. If we consider that the political priorities and goals at the time were to keep certain regimes on the side of the West, and therefore simply to prop up certain regimes, I am thinking of Ahidjo in Cameroon, that was all too successful. I mean some dictators retained their position until they died. So if that was the objective, as was widely acknowledged at the time, no-one concealed the fact, the idea of development aid is political. Yes, we are going to arrange the social and economic development of these countries, but there is a political objective behind it. So if you want to talk about the effectiveness of aid, I am exceedingly suspicious, and I think that we should be more suspicious, especially at a time when we are presented with indicators which say that aid is less effective than …, but it is very random, very subjective, and we must always bear in mind that you cannot judge the effectiveness of aid except in relation to its original goals. If those goals are not clear, and they were not in the 1960s, or perhaps they were clear, i.e. they were highly political, you cannot then say that they failed, or you have to use the same criteria. If those criteria are political, then you have to recognise that they succeeded very well for some regimes in any case.


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).

Guia Migani has a doctorate in history from Florence University and a doctorate in Politics from the Paris IEP; she is a post-doctoral researcher at Padova University. Her work relates to European development cooperation policy, Euro-African relations, the Cold War and European integration. Her latest research project concerns the history of European aid from 1973 to 1986. She is a specialist in Euro-African relations, and her publications include La France et l’Afrique subsaharienne, 1957-1963. Histoire d’une décolonisation entre idéaux eurafricains et politique de puissance, Brussels, Peter Lang, 2008, and “Les accords de Lomé et les relations eurafricaines : du dialogue Nord-Sud aux droits de l’homme” in E. Robin-Hivert, G.-H. Soutou (ed.) L’Afrique dans la mondialisation, Paris, PUPS, 2012. With Antonio Varsori, she co-edited the book Europe in the International Arena during the 1970s, Peter Lang, 2011.

Véronique Dimier is a professor at the Université Libre de Bruxelles where she teaches international development policies. With a doctorate in political science from Grenoble University, she has previously taught at the Institut Européen d’Administration Publique in Maastricht (IEAP). She is the author of Le gouvernement des colonies : regards croisés franco-britanniques, Presses Universitaires de Bruxelles, 2004, and Recycling Empire: the Invention of a European Development Aid Bureaucracy, Palgrave Macmillan, in publication.

With degrees in economics from Bonn University and in modern languages from Heidelberg University, Dieter Frisch served at the European Commission from 1958 to 1993, during which time he spent 24 years in various jobs relating to development cooperation policy. Director General of development from 1982 to 1993, he negotiated the Lomé III and IV Conventions. He is the author of numerous articles and in particular of a pamphlet on La politique de développement de l’Union européenne : un regard personnel sur 50 ans de coopération internationale, ECDPM, 2008. He is on the board of governors of the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM, Maastricht) and chairs the planning committee. Dieter Frisch is also a co-founder of Transparency International and is a member of its advisory board and special adviser on European affairs.

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