Chapter 4. Structure and systems

France has streamlined its central co-operation machinery, adopting an Orientation and Programming Law on Development and International Solidarity Policy; creating a forum for consultation and accountability to parliament and civil society; increasing the frequency of CICID meetings; and setting up Expertise France, which brought together six technical assistance agencies. But the institutional structure of the French co-operation system remains complex and fragmented. This complicates the oversight, co-ordination and coherence of its activities and can result in duplication of efforts, especially between the MEAE and AFD. France has put in place mechanisms that allow cross-cutting themes to be taken into account, and it has robust systems for procurement and risk management, but it needs to take care to better tailor its procedures to least-developed countries, including those which are fragile. AFD has further strengthened its human resources, but the MEAE needs to ensure that it can retain its ability to oversee aid operations, and the role and economic model of Expertise France need to be clarified.


Authority, mandate and co-ordination

Peer review indicator: Responsibility for development co-operation is clearly defined, with the capacity to make a positive contribution to sustainable development outcomes

France has streamlined its central co-operation machinery. It has adopted the Orientation and Programming Law on Development and International Solidarity Policy and created a forum for consultation with civil society and parliament. It has also increased the frequency of meetings of the Interministerial Committee on International Co-operation and Development (CICID). Nonetheless the institutional structure of the French co-operation system remains complex and fragmented, with many different actors directly involved in co-operation. This complicates the oversight, co-ordination and coherence of its activities and can result in duplicated effort, especially by the MEAE and AFD.

France has streamlined its central co-operation machinery, acting on the recommendations made in the 2013 peer review (OECD, 2014). In 2014, it enacted the first Orientation and Programming Law on Development and International Solidarity Policy (LOP-DSI) (JORF, 2014). The LOP-DSI sets the objectives and guidelines for French international co-operation policy over five years and defines the principles which will ensure that co-operation is effective (Chapter 2). The law also seeks to improve the monitoring and control of development aid. Finally, the law provides more transparency, consultation and accountability with non-state actors through a new National Council for Development and International Solidarity (CNDSI) (Chapter 1).

The institutional machinery is being streamlined, but remains complex and fragmented

The institutional machinery of the French co-operation system is still complex. It consists of a chief co-ordinating body (CICID) and three main actors – the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs (MEAE), the Ministry of the Economy and Finance (MINEFI) and the French Development Agency (AFD) – plus 10 or so other groupings (ministries, a number of operators, and several specialist bodies and partnerships) (Figure 4.1 and Annex D).

Under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister, the CICID defines the main strategy directions of French co-operation policy, the countries it will target and the sectors it will prioritise. It also ensures consistency in the geographical and sectoral priorities of the various elements of co-operation. Though CICID meets more frequently than it used to (in 2013, in 2016 and most recently in February 2018), it does not meet at least once a year as stipulated by the decree that enacted it (JORF, 1998). On the other hand, the CICID secretariat, made up of the MEAE and MINEFI officials, meets three or four times a year.

Within the MEAE, the General Directorate for Globalisation, Culture, Education and International Development is responsible for the strategic oversight of co-operation. Within the MINEFI, the General Directorate of the Treasury (DGT) manages relations with the international financial institutions, matters of indebtedness, and reporting official development assistance data (ODA). AFD, supervised by the two aforementioned ministries, is the key operator and delivers most of France’s ODA.

Figure 4.1. Institutional machinery of development co-operation

Source: France Diplomatie (2013), “French institutional assistance mechanism”, In French only - webpage,

In theory, the MEAE and the MINEFI are both responsible for the strategic oversight of co-operation, whilst its practical implementation is handled by the operators (of which AFD is one). In reality, the boundaries between these two functions are blurred. Issues of leadership and the division of work – between the MEAE and AFD for example, or concerning partnerships with non-government organisations (NGOs) or governance – are not always made clear, leading sometimes to duplication of effort between the institutions. In addition, the MEAE’s capability for strategic oversight is weakened by its high turnover of technical staff, whereas AFD has strengthened its strategic capability in recent years (Section 4.3). Since 2015, AFD has been associated with the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations (CDC), a group which provides funding for state investment throughout France,1 and which is helping to create a larger development agency better tailored to the country’s ambitions.

France is looking at ways to improve its development co-operation oversight machinery, however. In February 2018, the CICID decided to create a Development Council, chaired by the President of the Republic.2 In addition, AFD’s Strategic Orientation Council will now meet at least once a year, and an AFD strategic review is to be held every year3 (MEAE, 2018). These decisions to improve the political oversight of aid are to be commended. France must ensure that they are followed through, and that the relevant bodies do indeed meet at fairly regular intervals. Recent experience reveals an inadequacy here: the CICID has not so far been meeting as often as it is supposed to; and the Development Policy Observatory, created in 2015, only met formally for the first time in 2018 (Chapter 6). It is important that France indicates how – and at what levels – it assesses the efficacy of its oversight of ODA.

Co-ordination in the field is complex

A large number of organisations are involved in implementing French co-operation policy in the field. Firstly, there are the three chief actors: (1) the MEAE, operating through the Co-operation and Cultural Action Office (SCAC), which manages scientific and cultural co-operation, and PISCCA (Innovative Projects of Civil Societies and Other Stakeholder Coalitions), which supports local NGOs; (2) the MINEFI, which manages the economic co-operation instruments; and (3) AFD, operating through its network of agencies and offices abroad. Other actors are also directly involved in co-operation, such as the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD), which has its own offices in a large number of countries; Expertise France, which also has offices in a number of countries; Campus France; the Alliance Française centres; and France Volontaires.

The French ambassador co-ordinates all co-operation activity in each country. He or she examines and approves projects at a number of stages and can veto any project, including AFD projects. The ambassador does not, however, have any authority over the staff of local AFD agencies – even though AFD implements most of France’s aid projects, many decisions relating to direction and implementing these projects are taken at the AFD head office in Paris. The ambassador is therefore unable to fully play his or her role of co-ordinator. France sometimes signs a framework partnership agreement with the beneficiary country though this does not, as a rule, name specific sums of money or list indicators. In some countries (Morocco, for instance), AFD has its own framework for specific interventions (Chapter 5).

This situation can lead to duplication of effort between the MEAE and AFD. Collaboration often occurs through informal contacts between staff of the two institutions rather than an effective overall framework,4 and this can lead to conflicts in certain situations. A clearer division of roles (for example, oversight by the SCAC and implementation by AFD) might make oversight and activities in the field more effective.


Peer review indicator: The member has clear and relevant processes and mechanisms in place

France has put in place mechanisms that allow cross-cutting themes to be taken into account. It has made progress on the transparency of aid, and this progress must continue. Thanks to AFD, France has robust systems for procurement and risk management. But it needs to take care to tailor its procedures better to least-developed countries and fragile contexts – areas where France has promised a significant increase in the volume of its aid over the next few years.

Mechanisms for policy/programme approval are tailored to the French system

The co-secretariat of the CICID, co-chaired by the MEAE and the MINEFI, discusses the strategic direction of French development assistance and implementation modalities and approves strategic orientations, including those relating to AFD’s geographical footprint. The minutes of these meetings are not made public. AFD signs multiannual “contracts of objectives and means” (COMs) with the state, which are also not made public, but which are presented before parliament in draft form. AFD’s next COM will set out the roles and resources for enabling the agency to fulfil France’s new development co-operation ambitions. Expertise France5 and the other co-operation operators also sign COMs with the French state.

Sustainable development and gender are well integrated

The MEAE and AFD have introduced quality assurance mechanisms to ensure that cross-cutting themes are taken into account in advance. For example, in 2013, AFD introduced a “sustainable development opinion mechanism” aimed at ensuring that sustainable development, including action against climate change, is integrated into all projects funded by the agency. Since 2015, it has also devised sectoral “gender toolkits” to improve the embedding of gender in its operations (Section 2.2). There are, however, few arrangements for ensuring that cross-cutting themes are properly taken into account in project implementation and monitoring. Nor is there any mechanism for co-ordination and exchange between the MEAE and AFD on quality assurance and the consideration of cross-cutting themes.

Transparency is progressing, but room for improvement remains

The French Government provides comprehensive answers to questions about ODA from parliament and the senate. Annual performance reports give an account, for each programme, of the execution of commitments entered into at the time the draft budget act is examined. Since ODA is made up of multiple budget programmes, no single report covers the whole of it.6 This makes it difficult to gain an overall view of French ODA, and consequently complicates the work of monitoring and control by the Cour des Comptes (National Audit Office) and parliament. And whilst these reports are, in theory, a useful tool, in practice they vary very little from year to year and are sometimes viewed as an administrative formality rather than a true financial audit instrument.

Accountability for innovative funding operations (which are off-budget) has improved since 2017 as details of the use made of various tax receipts – from the financial transaction tax (TTF) and the solidarity levy on air tickets (TSBA) – are now appended to the budget act (Section 3.4). NGOs, however, would like to see the financial statements of the Solidarity Fund for Development (FSD) published, so that information on the assistance given to organisations financed by the fund can be accessible. Moreover, AFD’s COM does not include the activities of its subsidiary Proparco – which does not have a COM of its own. This means it is harder to ensure that its activities are transparent and to scrutinise them (see Section 3.4 for more on the activities of Proparco).

And finally, France complies with its commitments to transparency in funding (Section 5.1).

AFD has robust procurement and risk management systems, but needs better procedures for grants and fragile contexts

AFD’s procurement systems are robust: most of the projects it funds are commissioned by local contracting authorities and come with technical assistance and enhanced capacities for the authority in question. The agency also has a body of rules to guarantee fair procurement and the quality of its assistance (certificate of non-objection at various stages, untying of aid, social and environmental imperatives, action against corruption). As seen in Niger, however, insufficient delegation of operational authority and inadequate human resources on the ground mean that projects are mostly prepared at head office, and there is not always sufficient co-ordination with opposite numbers at national level (Annex C). Also, since AFD is subject to banking regulations, its procedures are not always suitable for dealing with grants and fragile contexts, which would require them to be faster and more flexible.7 That said, AFD’s status changed on 30 June 2017 from that of a credit institution to a “financing company”. This change of status subjects the agency to scrutiny by France8 rather than the European Central Bank, which should allow it greater flexibility in its investment choices (Agence Ecofin, 2017).

France has expanded its legislation in an effort to counter the risks of corruption (Chapter 1). Given its dual status as a public agency and a finance company (and thus subject to the Basel III rules), AFD has put in place robust risk management systems which are also used by Proparco.9 These include a general anti-corruption policy; a Group Risks Committee; risk mapping, provided by units responsible for risk monitoring; a database of incidents logged; and training programmes on corruption and fraud prevention which are mandatory for all staff. The General Directorate of the Treasury (DGT), for its part, analyses risks to debt sustainability as part of its remit.

In fragile contexts, AFD’s Crisis and Conflict Unit takes a risk management approach throughout the duration of a project, analysing the various risks from the moment they are identified. In order to build on and share experience gained from programmes implemented in these contexts, the agency is currently preparing a toolkit for project leaders and chargés de mission which covers the different stages of the project cycle; this is good practice and should be followed systematically (AFD, 2017).

The commitment to innovation could be fleshed out in the field

At the CICID’s 2018 meeting, France undertook “to promote technological, financial and operational innovation in its development and international solidarity policy” (MEAE, 2018). French co-operation actors are now institutionalising the search for innovation. In 2017, the MEAE set up a “digital taskforce” and AFD set up a special innovation unit within its Innovation, Research and Knowledge Directorate. It also broadened its ties with other development institutions (notably the KfW) to share practical experience and innovation. It will be interesting to see what form this activity takes in the field.

Capabilities throughout the system

Peer review indicator: The member has appropriate skills and knowledge to manage and deliver its development co-operation, and ensures these are located in the right places

The past 20 years of reform, aimed at giving AFD the prime responsibility for implementing French assistance, have seen the agency strengthen its human resources and their management. In contrast, staff numbers in the MEAE have fallen and turnover is high. The MEAE will need to resolve this problem if it is to retain its ability to oversee assistance effectively. The MINEFI, for its part, has set up a special ODA office to strengthen its strategic oversight. The creation of Expertise France has helped to streamline French technical assistance, but its role and economic model need to be clarified.

The MEAE must ensure that it has the necessary capabilities to play its oversight role to full effect

In 2017, the MEAE had a total staff of 1 69310 working on development co-operation, 23% fewer than in 2012.11 These staff members, the overwhelming majority of whom were serving abroad (83%), were either diplomats or contract staff with specialist knowledge of various areas of development, and they accounted for over 70% of total staff (MEAE, 2017). This high percentage of contract staff means that staff turnover is high, and this is a problem for the MEAE in terms of knowledge retention and institutional memory. The General Directorate for Globalisation is keen to create more development expertise amongst its staff. If the MEAE is to play its oversight role to full effect it must clarify the level of development expertise required for policy making. For example, it might introduce systems to retain development professionals and create career pathways for them.

The MINEFI has set up a special ODA office

The MINEFI has 65 staff in its General Directorate of the Treasury (DGT) working directly on development co-operation (55 are in the central administration and 10 in the development banks). The DGT employs another 639 people in its departments overseas, working on specific French development policy remits. Acting on the recommendations of the previous peer review (Annex A), the DGT has set up a special ODA office to strengthen its strategic oversight. It has recruited new staff to manage its climate finance portfolio and is working more closely with academic specialists and NGOs to enhance its skills. It is also mobilising its network of administrators on the boards of international financial institutions to enable the institutions to be closer to the realities in the field.

AFD has strengthened its human resources and their management

AFD has recruited 400 new staff since 2016 and plans to recruit a further 400 by 2020 in response to the recommendations of the previous peer review and the organisation’s expanded activities. It now has a staff of 2 350, 60% of whom are employed at headquarters and 40% in the field. The latter, which is higher than in 2012, is also a response to the recommendations of the previous peer review (Annex A). AFD is keen to maintain this balance. The agency has little difficulty in finding good candidates because the employment terms it offers are attractive; the resignation rate is also very low.12 Of AFD’s employees, 85% are executive-level staff, 40% of whom are female (compared to 53% for agency staff overall). The likelihood of a sharp increase in the share of grants in AFD’s portfolio over the next few years – going chiefly to priority countries and fragile contexts – might prompt AFD to increase its staff numbers in the field so that responsibility for preparing and managing projects can increasingly be delegated to them.

AFD has strengthened its human resource management systems: it has introduced new training policies, an innovative programme for integrating new recruits (“onboarding”), a staff dispute resolution system, and a system for internal mobility (between headquarters and the field) and within the French Administration (now including the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations). It has also forged partnerships with foreign development institutions. There has also been progress on performance management, though this could be improved to provide better rewards for merit. Moreover, as seen in Morocco, AFD has strengthened its policy for local staff management: it makes greater use of local staff, and ensures they have pathways for career advancement, access to training in Paris and can move around between countries.

The technical co-operation architecture must be streamlined further

France intends that Expertise France, formed in January 2015 as a grouping of six agencies and supervised jointly by the MEAE and the MINEFI, will become France’s main provider of technical expertise. It has expanded rapidly. In 2016, its volume of activity was worth EUR 121 million, 64% of which was multilateral in origin whilst 25% came from French Government orders and from AFD13 (Expertise France, 2017). Expertise France aims to be self-financing by 2020, but this economic model is sometimes difficult to sustain. It currently has 270 salaried employees and over 200 experts in the field, and manages around 400 projects. But, its grouping of agencies from varied sectors, its spread of activities over a large number of sectors, the lack of clarity around its economic model, and its ties to other French co-operation actors in Paris and in the field are exerting strong economic pressure on the organisation and leading to a degree of staff discontent (CFDT et al., 2017).

The plan to enlarge Expertise France further by adding more agencies has been put on hold, but agreements between the agency and those ministries with agencies not yet part of Expertise France are likely to be finalised soon, so that it can mobilise the technical expertise it needs more easily (MEAE, 2018). Expertise France will join the AFD Group in 2019. Expertise France’s economic model needs to be more clearly defined, as well as its role and relationships within the French co-operation system – both in Paris and in the field (French Senate, 2018).


AFD (2017), “Cadre d'intervention transversal vulnérabilités aux crises et résilience 2017-2021” (in French), unpublished, French Development Agency, Paris.

Agence Ecofin (2017), “L'Agence Française de Développement prend le statut de Société de Financement pour plus de souplesse dans ses interventions” (in French), Agence Ecofin, 6 July 2017, (accessed 9 March 2018).

CFDT, CGT, Solidaires, UNSA (2017), “Lettre ouverte à l'attention de Mme Cheremetinski et M. Bili” (in French),

Expertise France (2017), “Expertise France - Rapport annuel 2016” (in French), Expertise France, Paris,

French Senate (2018), “Rapport d'information sur la poursuite de la réforme de l’expertise internationale française” (in French), French Senate, Paris,

JORF (2014), “Loi n° 2014-773 du 7 juillet 2014 d'orientation et de programmation relative à la politique de développement et de solidarité internationale”, (Orientation and Programming Law on Development and International Solidarity), Legifrance, Official Journal of the French Republic, (accessed 26 February 2018).

JORF (1998), “Décret n°98-66 du 4 février 1998 portant création du comité interministériel de la coopération internationale et du développement” (in French), Legifrance, Official Journal of the French Republic, (accessed 1 March 2018).

MEAE (2018), “Comité interministériel de la coopération internationale et du développement (CICID) 8 février 2018. Relevé de conclusions” (in French), MEAE, Paris,

MEAE (2017), “Mémorandum de la France sur ses politiques de coopération : Comité d'aide au développement, OCDE”, (in French) MEAE, Paris.

OECD (2014), OECD Development Co-operation Peer Reviews: France 2013, OECD Development Co-operation Peer Reviews, OECD Publishing, Paris,


← 1. By forging this link, AFD aims to increase its capabilities by gaining access to CDC funds and acquiring additional, diversified expertise on local and regional issues.

← 2. The council will hold ad-hoc meetings to take strategic decisions on the implementation of assistance and will report annually on the directions taken by ODA.

← 3. France also plans to introduce “impact and financing plans” for target sectors such as education. These plans will identify proposed measures and the means of funding them over a period of several years.

← 4. In Morocco, for example, the MEAE/SCAC and AFD are both involved in governance and support for Moroccan NGOs.

← 5. For example, see

← 6. The document on cross-cutting themes (DPT) provides an overview of development co-operation activities and budgets each year.

← 7. In recognising this problem, AFD has started to think about how to implement the Sahel Alliance, as well as its four initiatives (Sahel, Central African Republic, Lake Chad region and the Syria/Iraq region) funded by the Peace and Resilience Fund.

← 8. More specifically, scrutiny by the French banking and insurance regulator.

← 9. See

← 10. Full-time equivalents.

← 11. Figures provided by the MEAE in March 2018.

← 12. About 15 resignations per year.

← 13. The remaining 11% came from other French and foreign donors.