French presidential candidates neglect development policy debate

Current presidential favourite François Fillon has only mentioned development aid in terms of managing migration. Rivals Benoît Hamnon and Yannick Jadot have made more tangible pledges. [EPP/ Flickr]

As France’s presidential election looms nearer, French NGOs have asked the candidates to put development policies, which are currently notable in their absence from the debate, at the heart of their foreign policy proposals. EURACTIV France reports.

After a disappointing mandate in terms of development policies, international solidarity organisations are relying on the next president of the Fifth Republic to focus once again on the issue when it comes to France’s international policy.

“Today, international matters are fundamental, especially given the change of administration in the United States. But their presence in the election campaign is currently very weak,” warned Coordination SUD President Philippe Jahshan.

As the presidential campaign gets serious, the NGO platform, which brings together 160 French organisations, has launched a manifesto that reminds the candidates of the importance of such policies and that measures were largely scaled back during the first years of outgoing President François Hollande’s time in office.

Hollande’s term was also marked by the renewal of the legislative framework that governs cooperation with poorer countries, the adoption of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

However, Jahshan also pointed out that the development ministry and its competences has also been “weakened”.

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SDGs

To meet its challenges, Coordination SUD’s manifesto identified four essential axes along which France’s international cooperation policy should be improved and called on the next president to “integrate and implement the SDGs at national level”.

Unlike their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals, which expired in 2015, the SDGs have to be implemented in all the countries that signed up to the agenda, not just in developing countries. The timetable for meeting the goals has been hardly touched upon by the candidates vying to replace Hollande in April.

In addition to their concerns about the development budget, which has fallen sharply, the NGOs requested development and humanitarian aid policy be strengthened through the creation of a fully-fledged ministry.

Unlike Germany and the United Kingdom, the two other big donors in Europe, France does not have a dedicated ministry for international cooperation, just a secretary of state.

The NGOs also called on the new president to ensure that “France meets it promise to commit 0.7% of its wealth in aid to developing countries”. It’s a pledge that has been made by a whole raft of countries but which only a handful managed to meet in 2015. France only managed to allocate 0.37% of GNI in 2015.

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National Front unwelcome

“France needs to set an example and respect its commitments to the poorest countries, like other European states have done. It’s about responsibility. The candidates have to take a stand,” added Coordination SUD Vice-President and Handicap International representative Jean-Marc Boivin.

The NGOs said they would convey their agenda to all the political parties, except for the far-right Front National, due to a “fundamental incompatibility of values”, explained Philippe Jahshan.

Migration

Lobbying the other political parties currently looks like a tall order though, given that hardly any of them have taken a position on development.

“Only Yannick Jadot (Europe Ecology – The Greens) and Benoît Hamnon (Socialist Party) have pledged to meet the 0.7% of GNI target,” said Jahshan. The other candidates have either not addressed the issue or have only mentioned it within the framework of regulating migration.

“The question of development in Africa is present in François Fillon’s programme but aid for African countries is linked to migration controls,” he added.

Hamon’s rival for the Socialist Party candidacy, Manuel Valls, is on the same page as Fillon as well, in that he has pledged to “develop cooperation aid with the countries of origin” of migrants, in order to create “a development policy that ensures controlled management of migration controls”.

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