A Model of its Own? State-NGO Relations in France

The emergence of new transnational actors on the international scene has considerably transformed the global political landscape. The increasing number of multinational corporations, transnational criminal and terrorist groups, and humanitarian and charitable organizations whose activities cross borders means that states, acting alone, are much less capable of governing global affairs. According to many observers, this trend means that states have lost their monopoly in global diplomacy, becoming just one actor among many on the world stage. Particularly for a country like France, whose identity has long been structured around the primacy of the state, such a vast decline of state capacity is sometimes lamented as the “end of France.”

In particular, the role and influence of one type of transnational actor–non-governmental organizations (NGOs)–on French foreign policy has been the source of much controversy in French political debate. This controversy began with an article by former Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine in Le Monde Diplomatique (December 2000) and, even more so, through his book Les cartes de la France à l’heure de la mondialisation. In these writings, Védrine expressed the view that “international civil society” is “somewhat of a madhouse or a mirage,” and that NGOs are “active minorities, self-designated powers.” He accused these organizations and the regulations they foster of “lacking transparency,” a position that sparked loud protests from NGOs and from much of the media. The implication was that NGOs posed a serious threat to the independence of the French state and to the democratic spirit of French society.

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