Oxfam: ‘French 2016 budget contradicts development promises’

NGOs denounced what they said was a €90 million cut from the development aid budget. [CIAT/Flickr]

France plans further cuts to its development aid budget in 2016. Christian Reboul told EURACTIV France that this decision runs against the urgent need for financing for the new Sustainable Development Goals. 

Christian Reboul is the head of development finance advocacy for Oxfam France.

Reboul spoke to Cécile Barbière

The French government presented its draft budget for 2016 on Wednesday (30 September). What do you think of it?

The official development assistance (ODA) budget is set to fall by 6%. That is €170 million. Compared with the overall budget cuts for 2016, development aid will be hit proportionally ten times harder than the average!

Since the start of François Hollande’s mandate, the French aid budget has fallen by €500 million. The reality of the budgetary decisions announced today flies in the face of the ambition president François Hollande showed on the podium at the United Nations just two days ago.

In his speech to the UN’s General Assembly in New York, he stressed the importance of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in eradicating poverty, fighting climate change and helping the world’s most vulnerable people. He even promised to dedicate an extra €4 billion per year to official development assistance by 2020.

The 2016 budget should have been the first step in the implementation of these new development goals. I cannot understand why it has been cut again. Funding the SDGs is urgent: it needs to start now.

France made a raft of new commitments at a donors’ conference in July, on top of the new pledges for climate finance. These include a promise of €100 million to the countries bordering Syria and €100 million to help fight Ebola. But none of these promises have materialised in the French budget.

The government urgently needs to address this and turn the trend around. They can do this by submitting an amendment during the budget debate.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls has said that the government intends to do just this.

Yes, he has confirmed that he will be submitting an amendment.

We only have five financial years left to reach the €4 billion increase in development aid promised by the president by 2020.

Ministers are meeting on Thursday (1 October) to discuss this amendment. They have to understand the urgency of the situation and allocate the extra €800 million needed to bring about François Hollande’s promises.

Can the parliamentary debate change anything?

Members of the French parliament are becoming more and more interested in the issue of official development assistance. During the last budget, MPs asked ministers to re-allocate €35 million to the least advanced countries and the most vulnerable people.

The foreign affairs committee also published a report on aid to francophone Africa, which called for subsidies to be increased for these countries.

French MPs have shown real political will to deal with these questions and to have their policy recommendations put into the budget.

What are the consequences of these regular French budget cuts?

This is the fifth consecutive cut to the official development assistance budget in five years.

We have lost a significant portion of the budget for the strengthening of fragile states, as well as for the fight against climate change.

In terms of health, some of the Millennium Development Goals that end in 2015 have not been achieved. For example, we have failed on the objective of reducing maternal mortality by two thirds. We have only managed a cut of 45%, and the lack of financing is responsible.

These announced cuts are wrong at a time when the international community is adopting its new Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. We cannot allow the coming era to become an era of broken promises.

To compensate for the cuts to ODA, France has focused on developing innovative sources of finance, like the Financial Transaction Tax. Is this a good choice?

You are right that the Financial Transaction Tax is an innovative financing tool, but it should be used to add to finances that are already in place. The share of the revenue dedicated to development has to be increased, and it must not be capped, as it was in 2015.

The government is also counting on the merger of the Deposits and Consignments Fund with the French Development Agency to release extra funds.

Reforming official development assistance is important. This merger between the public financing group (Deposits and Consignments Fund) and the French Development Agency can be a success if it meets certain conditions. It must result in a real development institution, and not a purely financial institution that will further ‘financialise’ development aid.

If we want the purpose of development to be maintained, we also have to increase grants to the least advanced countries, to the poorest populations and to adaptation to climate change.

Only 7% of French climate finance is made up of grants, for example. In Germany, this figure is 90%. The balance of grants and loans in climate financing must be redressed.

This new institution must also prioritise the traceability of aid.

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