View the list of NGOs studied
Historically, the humanitarian movement in France
has origins in three main streams of thought:
- Christian and missionary;
- working class and Marxist;
- republican and secular.
Its composition is thus extremely diversified,
not to say heterogeneous, from
the corporate bodies, brotherhoods, religious orders, guilds,
leagues, and congregations of the Middle Ages, to the trade unions,
clubs, cooperatives, mutual benefit and assistance societies of
the nineteenth century, not forgetting the concerned citizens
organizations and various associations of the twentieth century.
Today, one French out of four is a member of one or several associations. There are more than one million entities coming under the Association Act of 1901, as against 730,000 at the end of the 1990s. Amongst them, 170,000 (as against 120,000 ten years ago) have paid employees. With 960,000 full-time equivalent paid-workers in 1996 and 1.6 million in 2006, excluding religious congregations, the French nonprofit sector represents 4.9% of all non-agricultural employment. It constitutes 3.7% of the 1996 gross domestic product, or 6.3% if the imputed value of volunteer input is taken into account.
Non-profit associations cover a variety of fields: culture, social assistance, education and
training, environmental issues, regional development, sport, research,
health, etc. But not all of them boast a charitable vocation: only 40,000 are registered as humanitarian according to Viviane Tchernonog. Moreover, most of them work solely within French territory. In the databank called SIRENE (Système de répertoire des entreprises et des établissements), only 0.4% had activities abroad, and they constituted 1.3% of operating expenditures and 1.8% of full-time equivalent paid-workers in the nonprofit sector in 1995. Despite the universal
aspirations born with the 1789 Revolution, INGOs remain a minority,
reflecting a general concern: only 10% of the French population’s
donations are directly aimed at helping the Third World.
A specificity of French associations is linked
to the small number of Foundations. Amongst the 2 000 Foundations
which come under the new legislation of 1990, only 400 are state
approved, and but around 30 emanate directly from corporate firms.
Such a situation has of course important consequences on French
NGOs, compared to their Anglo-Saxon homologues, which are much
better financed and equipped. Indeed the lack of important private
patronage forces them to seek other kinds of financing, namely
from the United Nations and European Union agencies. As for the
French state, it doesn’t participate highly in the resources
Notwithstanding the decentralized cooperation on
behalf of the 22 regions, 95 departments and 36 000 communes of
metropolitan France, the proportion of public aid to development
channeled through INGOs is one of the lowest in Europe. With the
result that such associations have to seek the generosity of the
French population, even though donations, in slight increase over
the past decade, are still far from equaling those of Anglo-Saxon
Several reasons can explain the difficulty in
mobilizing individuals and businessmen in favor of private charity
agencies. First of all, the French expect financing in general,
and such financing in particular, to be provided by the state
since they pay relatively high tax. As shown in Jean-Luc Marais’
book, the development of republican institutions brought round
a consecutive decrease in donations, legacies and philanthropic
actions at the start of the twentieth century. What’s more the statist tradition contrasts with the Anglo-Saxon focus on free trade, individual responsibility and, in Germany, the “subsidiarity” principle. The omnipresence of public authorities has been an obstacle to private initiative, resulting in an ever more rigid and mistrustful relationship between NGOs and a Jacobin state. The consensus of
politicians as to the sacred role of public power largely transcends
party divisions. If “charity” was for a long time
the leitmotiv of the right wing largely inspired by Christian
ideals, the left wing refers to “solidarity” implying
an effort towards social justice and redistribution of wealth.
In both cases the French Republic, whether a “police state”
or a “welfare state”, has shown a certain continuity
regarding associations. The separation of Church and State since
1905 has led missionary organizations to seek self-financing.
Today many Christian NGOs compared to their secular homologues
depend but little on public aid thanks to the resources of various
collections and donations from the faithful towards the Third
Yet the construction of Europe, the liberalization
of a global economy, and the evolution of the French presidential
regime through cohabitation governments, have introduced new forms
of cooperation between state and private voluntary organizations.
In their own way, INGOs have been able to expand the French cultural
sphere of influence, especially through the 2,000 or so volunteers
who travel to developing countries each year. At a geopolitical
level, the mapping of their interventions echoes the traditional
zones of French diplomacy. In 1999 according to the Commission
Coopération Développement, 33% of INGOs’ expenditures
in developing countries were allocated to Africa and the Indian
Ocean, 14% to Asia and 10% to Latin America and the Caribbean.
The only noteworthy evolution: a redeployment towards Eastern
Some INGOs’ are clearly an “offshoot”
of the government. The French administration frequently sponsors
its own associations in order to develop its cooperation programs
with greater ease and to avoid the procedural nightmare of official
accountancy. This isn’t without risk as illustrated by the
scandal which, in 1986, struck the socialist minister for Cooperation,
Christian Nucci, when it was revealed that such a “submarine”
association, Carrefour du développement, had been used
to finance political activities with public funds. Taking into
account that as a rule the state gives little to INGOs, such affairs
remain exceptional. In truth, and it is probably a paradox considering
the French way of government, the authorities do not keep a tight
eye on the activities of so called humanitarian associations.
Unlike Great Britain, there is no such thing as a Charity Commission
which could investigate thoroughly such associations, sometimes
for up to six months. In France, the government has only three
instruments to control NGOs: selection through allocation of the
funds of the ministry of Foreign Affairs; the power to award or
withdraw state approval (décret d’utilité
publique); the system of tax exemptions. This last tool, which
comes under the responsibility of the Finance ministry, does not
aim to assess the quality of humanitarian programs but the transparency
of charities that are always suspected of hiding lucrative designs
of one sort or another.
Far from charitable concerns, the administrative
check of accounts does not prevent NGOs from multiplying, and
in some cases going bankrupt -for example EquiLibre and Medicus
Mundi in 1998- because they don’t succeed in diversifying
their financial resources or adopting the professional advertising
campaigns necessary to encourage the generosity of the public.
In 2002, HSF (Hopital sans frontières) was thus put into
compulsory liquidation. Founded in 1976 by Tony de Graaff with
the help of the French International Rotary Clubs, and in partnership
with MDM (Médecins du Monde), HSF built mobile hospitals,
often transported by French Air Force Transaals. Quite typically
this NGO rapidly expanded, abandoned its initial financial backer,
and saw its salary expenses go through the roof. In 2000, excluding
funds from the European Union, other resources only represented
4% of a € 1,8 million budget. Of HSF there only remains a
small structure on a strict voluntary basis, i.e. a Belgian section
created in Namur in 1992 and still linked to the International
Rotary Clubs. Likewise of what used to be Medicus Mundi remains
but a Spanish section. Amidst such a proliferation, branches abroad,
former NGOs, newcomers and associations with changed names lead
to an ever more confused and confusing world of humanitarian organisations.
Involuntary homonyms are not rare: in 1995, Orphelins du Monde
(“Orphans of the World”) took up the name of a charity
accused of deceitful advertising and embezzlement in 1991.
As a rule, the scattered aspect of French associations
does not help cohesion. Similarly to Coordination SUD, from which
MSF (Médecins sans frontières) withdrew, the few
initiatives to draw NGOs together have not been able to clarify
the situation. To avoid scandals, the “humanitarian corporation”
opts to keep problems under silence rather than to denounce them.
Thus it was “outsiders”, such as the General Inspection
for Health and Social Affairs, which revealed the embezzlement
operated by the ARC (Association for Research against Cancer)
in 1991 and the mismanagement of the Raoul Follereau Foundation (specialized in fighting
leprosy) in 2002. Despite the Evin law of 1991 which compels NGOs
to publish their budget, the Cour des Comptes (the French audit
office), in its January 2003 annual report, renewed its concern
in the face of the opacity of charity accounts, especially regarding
capital and assets.
Acknowledging this highlights the limits of the
self-control system advocated by charities. Proof of this is the
Comité de la Charte in charge of a deontological charter
for social and humanitarian organizations whose functioning costs
are met by the generosity of the public. This committee was launched
in 1989 by NGOs wishing to enhance a tarnished reputation, to
promote a minimum of financial transparency and to prevent a reinforcement
of state regulations. In concrete terms, the Comité de
la Charte grants quality labels to the members who sponsor it:
about fifty. After receiving the report of the “censors”,
a supervising board gives an advise which in most cases is followed
by the governing body composed of representative members of the
same NGOs examined by the Comité de la Charte. The decision
to award a label of financial transparency gives way to four possible
scenarios: a renewal of the label; a critical renewal under certain
conditions; a warning; the withdrawal of the label. There exists
a fifth hypothesis: to simply refuse the membership of a NGO which
doesn’t come up to the standards set up by the committee.
This “system of self-discipline”, to
quote a French auditor (commissaire aux comptes), nonetheless
reveals three kind of structural problems: the absence of real
sanctions; the potential collusion of those investigating; and
the refusal to publish the censors’ reports. A major difficulty
resides in the conflict of interests which can occur during the
examination of a charity’s accounts. Without going so far
as to doubt the committee’s intentions, one can question
the degree of complicity of censors whose volunteering status
is proof of an undeniable sympathy towards the associative movement.
The commissaires aux comptes are chosen by the NGOs themselves
and their scope of investigation is much less precise than in
firms, especially regarding actual expenditures. The Comité
de la Charte has certainly tried to improve. Some of its members
used to delay the investigation procedures and still benefited
from a label of financial transparency. Since then, censors must
be different from the commissaires aux comptes and are named by
the Comité de la Charte’s chairman, not anymore the
NGOs they investigate.
Yet such a system remains incomplete because the
opinions of the censors are not published and thus do not have
the restricting force of the Cour des Comptes’ annual reports.
It is true that on the only occasion the Comité de la Charte decided to exclude one of its members in the late 1990s, the latter took legal action.
To avoid bad publicity, the AFM (Association Française contre les Myopathies) had withdrawn
its membership just before being expulsed: it was thus possible
to attack the Comité de la Charte whose press release had
explained the reasons for eviction. Arguing that the committee
was guilty of malice aforethought, if not libel, the AFM,
regardless of its own mismanagement, won the
case in court and and was awarded damages which exceeded
€ 11 000! Such jurisprudence is not likely to encourage future
efforts of self-criticism within the humanitarian sphere, be it
at the cost of keeping silent when scandals occur.
To go further than the problems of embezzlement,
one must consider the criminal drifts amidst charities: proven
cases are exceptional certainly, but revealed through police inquiries,
and not through the humanitarian movement itself, little inclined
to expose the existence of its “black sheep”. Such
affairs do not only concern paedophilia or sexual abuses, for instance
on refugees from Sierra Leone in February 2002. They also regard
the way individuals can use charities as a cover, like Michel
D’Auria, who under a pseudonym, Antonio Canino, took care
of the homeless in Emmaüs shelters, became the personal doctor
of the famous Abbé Pierre and whose extradition Rome had
been asking for since 1997 owing to his supposed implication in
hold-ups aimed at helping his brother Lucia, a member of a terrorist
organization similar to the Red Brigades, Prima Linea.
Through their vocation to encourage social rehabilitation
and to work with volunteers from various backgrounds, NGOs can
be an ideal solution for young unemployed or outcasts. Richard
Durn had been part of a humanitarian convoy to Bosnia before proving
he was tired of life by slaughtering the town councillors of Nanterre
in the suburb of Paris in March 2002. Some practitioners admit
it. In his annual report for 2002, the president of the French
section of Médecins sans frontières, Jean-Hervé
Bradol, asks whether “there is a link between our profession,
its means of action, and what could perhaps be a number of suicides
superior to national averages in comparable groups”. The
1997 edition of the Guide to humanitarian action, by Philippe
Jost and François Perriot, is even more explicit: “according
to specialists, persons suffering from minor depressions can benefit
from becoming a voluntary worker thus giving their lives a “meaning”
as say the psychologists. Likewise the act of involving oneself
in a humanitarian project can be profitable to the unemployed
or pensioners and those women who have stopped work to look after
their children, by providing them with the means to step back
into professional life. Which doesn’t mean that voluntary
work leads to an employment. But it gives back faith in oneself
and can lead to training, enhancing chances of finding a job.”
Of course the French humanitarian movement doesn’t
only attract social outcasts. The individual drifts, once again,
are rare. But it does happen that some NGOs are created to hide
political or illegal activities behind a dubious so-called charitable
mission. A Muslim from an immigrant family, Khaled Ouldali, who
founded an shaddy Association de bienfaisance et de culture (Association
for charity and culture) in 1993, was arrested in Georgia in September
2002 accused of assisting the Chechen rebel movement. After all,
any lucrative or proselyte movement can proclaim itself humanitarian.
Suspected of being financed by Syria, the Association des Projets
de Bienfaisance Islamiques de France (APBIF, or Association of
Charitable Islamic Projects in France), for instance, spreads
the beliefs of the Ahbaches’ brotherhood.
The French Jewish community is also concerned.
David and Raphaël, two sons of the rabbi Elie Rotenemer whose
association Refuge (dissolved in 1993) looked after religious
schools and old peoples homes partly financed by the 1% housing
system, were taken to court in October 2001 because their Foundation
received kickbacks on public money. Via the charities’ network,
the mobilization of the French Jewish community in favor of Israel
deserves to be considered, taking into account that it can be
used to finance the war against Palestinians. Thus rabbi Haïm
Shalim, the founder of the Massaret schools, has been investigated
because his association laundered French checks in Israel; it
is not known what this money was then used for. Under the pretence
of civil voluntary work, moreover, private Jewish schools and
associations sent youths to training camps in the Israeli army
barracks in 2002. As for Gilles Taieb’s ABSI (Association
for the Welfare of Israeli Soldiers), which belongs to the CRIF
(representative board of French Jewish institutions), it only
assists the wounded of the Israeli Defence Force.
Actually, no religious community is without such
shortcomings. For example, the Catholic fundamentalists of the
Brotherhood of Notre Dame de la Merci, a branch of the Militia
Sanctae Mariae (the Order of the Knights of Our Lady), helped
French collaborators of the Nazis after the Second World War,
especially Paul Touvier, the leader of the Vichy regime’s
Milice, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1994 after having
been found guilty of complicity in crimes against humanity in
1944. Under the direction of Bernard Antony and Jean-Marie Le
Chevallier, two far-right members of the European parliament,
and Solidarity”) also requires attention. In December 1991,
it organized a 200 tons’ convoy to Zagreb in Croatia where
cash was given to the mayor of the town, Boris Buzanci’c,
and where the food was deliberately handed out in priority to
soldiers and their families, under the supervision of the national
office for refugees and exiled persons. Chrétienté-Solidarité
did not hide its sympathy for Dobroslav Parag’s conservative
party, whose militiamen in black uniform of the Croatian Liberation
Forces HOS (Hrvatske Oslobodilacke Snage) were composed of anti-Communists
full of nostalgia for the Oustachis. In a book published by himself,
Alain Sanders, a journalist at the nationalist newspaper Présent and an active member of Chrétienté-Solidarité,
wrote that aid consisted before all in a “moral and political
support” to the Croatian fight against “Serbo-Communists”.
At the same time, the author evokes the “humanitarian nature”
of Chrétienté-Solidarité’s convoy to
persuade the Slovene customs to allow it to cross the Croatian
border. All the ambiguity of the misuses of the term “humanitarian”
is in this example.
The strategic profiles of the following INGOs try
to untangle the best from the worst when it comes to situations
of crisis. Have only been kept the most relevant associations
from this point of view, without any pretence towards being exhaustive.
Considering the classification system of the database, have also
been cast aside the French sections of INGOs whose head office
is abroad, for instance in Britain with Amnesty, in the United
States with CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere)
or in Italy with the Secours catholique, which belongs to the
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View the list of NGOs studied