On the occasion of President Sarkozy’s state visit in the UK last week, Oxfam has attacked his plans to go back on France's promise to increase aid to poor countries. There are rumors that France - the first G8 country to sign up to the UN target of delivering 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) as foreign aid by 2012 - is set to abandon that commitment. Instead the President is likely to propose an extension of the deadline to 2015, a decision that will represent a serious breach of promise for the millions of people in poor countries who rely on French aid. It will also send out a dangerous message to other rich country governments who came together at Gleneagles in 2005 to 'make poverty history' that they are free to break their aid commitments with impunity.
"President Sarkozy's plans to break promises on aid are morally indefensible and politically inept," said Sébastien Fourmy of Oxfam France - Agir ici. "If France breaks its 0.7% pledge, millions of people will be let down in their fight against poverty." France has consistently shown leadership on the vital issue of ending world poverty and fighting suffering in Africa. It was at the heart of the G8 decision to increase aid by $50bn per year by 2010 and was the first G8 country to set a timetable to meet the 0.7% of GNI, by 2012. This decision would represent a real fall from grace for a country that has historically been such an aid champion.
President Sarkozy met with Gordon Brown on Thursday morning to discuss issues such as closer cooperation on immigration and nuclear power, as well as the possible deployment of additional 1,000 French troops in Afghanistan. But it was also expected that Brown wanted aid and progress towards the Millennium Development Goals to be high on the agenda. In the end the two politicians outlined a range of common initiatives from the reform of the UN Security Council to an increased collaboration on defense and new nuclear power stations. They also announced to increase spending on education in Africa by an additional €1.27bn (£1bn) by 2010 (>>> joint communiqué).
This year's aid figures will show that overall levels of aid have fallen for the second year in a row and that progress towards the promises made in Gleneagles in 2005 has been minimal. A negative signal from France could send a very negative signal to other rich nations and especially EU member states in terms of breaking Gleneagles promises with impunity. Currently French Overseas Development Aid is 0.47% of GNI - a very tiny part of the French budget. It is set to fall for the second year in a row when figures are announced in early April. The cost to France of meeting its aid promises is just only 127 € per person, just under half what the average citizen spends on perfume.