French Election 2022: Macron's win and what it means for French development policy

On Sunday, April 24th, the incumbent President Emmanuel Macron was re-elected, winning with 58.5% of the votes against the 41.5% of the far-right challenger Marine Le Pen in the second round of the French presidential elections. While this makes him the first President in 20 years to receive a second mandate, the gap with the far right has narrowed significantly, with Le Pen’s party, the National Rally (formerly the National Front) obtaining its highest percentage of votes to date.

In contrast to Le Pen‘s nationalist agenda, development practitioners agree that this is good news for development. Under Macron, official development assistance (ODA) levels have steadily increased by 30% from 2017 to 2021 and a new Program and Orientation Bill on Solidarity-Based Development and the Fight Against Global Inequalities (2021 development law) has set the direction for an overhaul and modernization of French development policy. While it’s anticipated that Macron will continue implementing the priorities and reforms begun in his first term, the Ukraine crisis is creating stronger pressures on ODA budget and reprioritization and, if the electoral campaign is any indication, development cooperation risks being pushed to the bottom of the Presidential priority list.

What can we expect?

During Macron’s first term, he initiated a complex overhaul of French development policy, resulting in the adoption of a new development law in August 2021. The strategy lays out ambitious financial commitments and geographical and sectoral priorities, underpinned by the commitment to reach the target of 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) spent on ODA by 2025. In his first term, Macron continuously increased ODA from US$11.3 billion in 2017 to US$14.8 billion in 2021, representing 0.52% ODA/GNI in 2021. As a staunch advocate for multilateralism, Macron positioned France as a political leader in the global development space. In particular, France assumes political leadership in global health, actively pushing for a coordinated response to the COVID-19 crisis, including co-launching the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A initiative), as well as supporting multilateral organizations, notably hosting the sixth replenishment conference of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. In spite of this, French contributions to COVID response, specifically the ACT-A mechanism, remain below their fair share relative to financial capacity (US$335 million in 2021). Additionally, in adopting a “feminist foreign policy,” Macron has made gender equality a key component of his international agenda, with the 2021 development law instituting it as a cross-cutting objective of development policy overall. Yet, questions remain about the quality of gender-focused ODA and these policy priorities have not always received sufficient financial backing. Notably, spending on gender equality has remained below the OECD average (US$1.6 billion or 26% of bilateral allocable ODA in 2019 compared to the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) average of 47%).

Based on the policy directions set out in the first term, Macron will likely use his second term to continue implementing current priorities and consolidate previous reforms. With the 2021 development law offering a predictable financial trajectory towards the 0.7% target, France’s ODA/GNI is expected to further increase in the coming years, reaching 0.61% in 2023 and 0.66% in 2024. Key policy priorities put forward by the 2021 development law as well as the conclusions from the Interministerial Committee for International Cooperation and Development (CICID) in 2018 will continue to dominate during this term, centering on education, health, gender equality, climate, and political stability.

Most notably, Macron is likely to continue focusing on the following priorities:

  • Funding for gender equality expected to increase: Promising a renewed focus on gender as his “great cause” during the electoral campaign, Macron will likely increase funding for gender equality. The 2021 development law prescribes an increase in spending that directly or indirectly promotes gender equality to 75% of ODA by 2025 (according to the OECD’s gender markers), indicating a 200% increase from 2019 levels.
  • Reshaped relationship with Africa: During his first term, Macron has put the African continent at the center of his agenda, vocally expressing his intention to reshape France’s relationship with Africa and build a new narrative around a partnership of equals. With the 2021 development law naming 19 priority countries, including 18 in Sub-Saharan Africa, this geographical focus is expected to remain in place and be accompanied by rising spending levels. The 2021 development law stipulates that half of all grants as well as two-thirds of grants by the French Development Agency (AFD) should be allocated to priority countries, while by 2025, priority countries should receive 25% of the country’s bilateral ODA, up from an average of 14% in 2017-2019.
  • Renewed ambition on climate: Climate has long been a priority of France and was one of Macron’s flagship issues during his first term. In 2019, France spent US$4.7 billion, or 44% of bilateral allocable ODA, on climate compared to the DAC average of 23%. Pledging to allocate an annual US$7 billion to international climate finance until 2025 at COP26, buttressed by Macron’s electoral promise to prioritize climate over his second term, climate financing is expected to further increase.

Despite continuities in French development assistance between the two terms, recent events, chiefly the Ukraine war and its implications, will give rise to competing pressures on the budget, forcing the government to reprioritize its policies and to redirect ODA flows.

  • Steep rise of in-donor refugee costs: In-donor refugee costs already take up a large chunk of French development assistance, amounting to $1.2 billion in 2020. With increasing numbers of Ukrainian refugees arriving in France, refugee costs are expected to rise significantly, possibly narrowing the leeway to pursue other priorities.
  • Humanitarian aid for Ukraine: Beyond in-country refugee costs, spending may increasingly be directed toward humanitarian aid for Ukraine, with France already approving a €300 million loan for Ukraine and more aid expected to come.
  • Defense spending on the rise: In response to the war, governments across Europe are increasingly reprioritizing defense spending. France already hiked its defense budget for 2022 by €1.7 billion compared to the previous year, and may further increase spending. With Macron’s strong commitment to Europe, he may advocate for increased defense cooperation at an extraordinary EU summit on defense in May.

With multiple crises intersecting, the future of French development assistance might be less certain than envisioned in the 2021 development law. Thus, while Macron continues to offer political leadership and ambitious goals for France’s development policy, the current crises facing France could make it difficult for his government to follow through.