EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Eric Chevallier, Director of the Crisis and Support Center of the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs.

Eric Chevallier – Director of the Crisis and Support Center, MEAE – has a long experience of crises and humanitarian action. At the end of the recent National Humanitarian Conference in Paris and at a time when the CDCS’s organization and resources are increasing, we asked him a series of questions for readers of Défis Humanitaires. We thank him for this exclusive interview.


 

Alain Boinet: The 5th National Humanitarian Conference (CNH) was held on December 17th from Paris by video conference. What is your assessment of the conference, in terms of organization and participation, as well as of the 4 round tables on: the impact of anti-terrorist measures on humanitarian aid, IHL and access to aid, the humanitarian-development-peace triple nexus and climate?

Eric Chevallier:

I draw an objectively positive assessment of this, for several reasons. Firstly, this CNH has been maintained despite the pandemic. Of course, the adjusted format in terms of physical participation may have generated some frustration, which must be heard, but this should not invalidate the success of this event.

Secondly, it is the result of a partnership dynamic, a co-construction between the State and humanitarian actors that was remarkable. This approach, and this is very important, really worked, because it was conceived, as soon as the steering committee was set up, in a joint and equal manner. In addition to the work of this steering committee, two other processes were also established, also on a parity basis. On the issue of banking access first, but also on the specific issue of the protection of humanitarian personnel following the tragic events that affected ACTED and all of us on August 9, 2020. These three dynamics converged towards the CNH.

The third element of the success of the CNH is the level of participation (more than 500 people) and representation. At the request of the humanitarian actors, this last one has been raised compared to previous editions, with notably the presence for the first time of a President of the Republic, in this case President Macron, who insisted on maintaining his participation in spite of the situation (Emmanuel Macron tested positive at Covid-19 the same day, editor’s note), of course Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, but also several Nobel Peace Prize winners, the European Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Marc Lowcock, and the President of the ICRC, Peter Maurer. The participation of the President of the Republic marks the interest in these issues at the State summit and the administration’s willingness to get involved.

Fourth, the contributions of the roundtables and plenary presentations were very rich.

The time has now come to follow up on the CNH and implement what was decided during the conference, and from this point of view, I am very pleased that we can now count on an interministerial mechanism to follow up on the 17 commitments made by the President of the Republic. This will make it possible to involve all the ministerial actors concerned in the implementation of these recommendations. The humanitarian actors, who will, of course, remain associated, will remain vigilant. I know this and I understand it perfectly.

Statement by the President of the Republic at the 5th National Humanitarian Video Conference, ©Judith Litvine/MEAE

A.B: As you just pointed out, this is the first time that a President of the Republic has presided over and concluded the CNH since its first edition in 2011. This is a positive signal for the humanitarian community and a milestone in a long process in its relations with the public authorities. What are the main commitments announced by the Head of State?

E.C:

The President of the Republic made 17 commitments that can be grouped into 7 main themes. The first concerns development issues and special drawing rights. Then there is the question of the budgets devoted to emergency action (humanitarian action and stabilization) with the objective of reaching 500 million euros by 2022, which is part of the humanitarian strategy of the French Republic, enshrined in a decision of the CICID (Interministerial Council for International Cooperation and Development). Moreover, the consideration of environmental issues in humanitarian aid is a theme that deserves to be developed and that comes from the humanitarian actors themselves. Another point is the preservation of the humanitarian space, with a certain number of measures at the national level, of course, but also at the European and international levels, and for which the President would like France to play a leading role. Another theme is that of banking access, which we know is a major issue. Then there are the issues of strengthening respect for IHL, which will take different but complementary forms. Finally, the last point is the fight against impunity for attacks against humanitarian workers.

A.B: Humanitarian actors have clearly perceived the advances and progress contained in the declaration of the President of the Republic. However, there are also some regrets and expectations. Indeed, after 3 years of consultation with the public authorities, there has been no significant progress on the issue of bank transfers made difficult by the sanctions regime and anti-terrorism measures. Similarly, humanitarian NGOs were hoping for an exemption in the French penal code based on International Humanitarian Law.  There is therefore disappointment and also concern about the consequences that this could entail as a risk for humanitarian actors. Are we going to take up these files again to move forward?

E.C:

To say that the President of the Republic has not responded to these issues is not accurate.

When we look at the 17 commitments, a certain number concern bank access, asking that in the next six months concrete modalities be clarified. This is what we are working on, and it is part of the action plan for which the President of the Republic has given guidance. It remains technically complex. We hope that this will constitute concrete and operational progress, and that is what the President of the Republic has asked the interministerial dynamic to do.

As for the inclusion in the penal code, and given a number of implications and constraints, the choice was made for an instruction from the Minister of Justice to be sent to the Public Prosecutor’s Office with a view to making them aware of this specific issue.

This may not be exactly what some NGOs wanted, but it is an important concrete measure with real implications.

AB: The European Commissioner for Humanitarian Action, Mr. Janez Lenarcic, proposed that all donors should align themselves with the principle of non-screening of the final beneficiaries of aid, as is the practice of the CDCS but not the French Development Agency (AFD). How could this proposal be concretized at the international level?

E.C:

Again, this is part of the 17 presidential commitments. On the subject of humanitarian aid, International Humanitarian Law (IHL) allows the European Union, but also the United Nations and the ICRC, to respect the principle of non-screening of final beneficiaries. The President of the Republic has unambiguously and forcefully stated that this is France’s position. A more complex area is that of aid that is not qualified or qualifiable as humanitarian. At this level work continues.

A.B: Is it the context in which this aid is implemented that constitutes a discriminating criterion between screening and non-screening?

E.C:

I let the work continue on this subject.

Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, at the National Humanitarian Conference, December 17, 2020, ©Judith Litvine/MEAE

A.B: The President of the Republic confirmed the commitments made to increase France’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) to 0.55% of RND in 2022, including 500 million euros for humanitarian aid. In this perspective, what was the amount of the Emergency Humanitarian Fund (FUH) in 2020, what will it be in 2021 and what will be the distribution between humanitarian aid, stabilization, programmed food aid and international organizations (NUOI).

E.C:

Within this confirmation of ODA objectives, the President of the Republic confirmed the commitments to triple humanitarian aid between 2018 and 2022 – with an increase from 150 million euros in 2018 to 500 million euros in 2022. There are three main budget lines for this humanitarian aid. They are essentially channeled through the FUH managed by the CDCS, the Programmed Food Aid, and the support to the United Nations Agencies through two other directorates of the Ministry, the DGM and NUOI, with roughly the same envelopes. The increase is very clear, and we have gone through the initial finance law from 150 million euros in 2018, to 287 million in 2020, then to 330 million in 2021, with the objective of increasing to 500 million euros in 2022. As far as CDCS is concerned, there’s a really significant increase, since in 2020 we had an initial budget of 80 million euros, and the breakdown for our budget in 2021 is 110 million euros.

CDCS South Pacific Humanitary Stockpile, ©CDCS

A.B: At the CNH, Mark Lowcock, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, pointed out that 235 million people needed humanitarian aid this year, compared to 168 million in 2020, an increase of 40%. For his part, David Beasley, executive director of the WFP, said he feared a “famine pandemic” and specified that 270 million people will face extreme hunger in 2021. Will we be able to meet these needs and what is CDCS’s strategy and priorities?  Which countries are you most concerned about?

E.C:

Indeed, everyone is struck by the intersection of these two curves that are on the one hand the increase of means, and on the other hand the restriction of humanitarian space and the actors’ capacity to act. The pandemic has considerably aggravated the intersection of these curves. Attempts must be made to mobilize more resources and increase effectiveness and efficiency. This requires addressing a number of issues related to humanitarian space. This brings us back to the other subjects addressed by the President of the Republic, but also to subjects that have been at the heart of the preparation of the CNH and in particular the round table on the lessons to be learned from the pandemic: pooling of resources and localization. This will be one of the cross-cutting priorities of CDCS’s action this year. Pooling must be made a priority, and the CDCS will continue to support initiatives that go in this direction, such as the work carried out by the Humanitarian Logistics Network – which, in this very dark period, has been a remarkable success in terms of pooling logistical resources by NGOs – supported by France and the European Union.

European Humanitarian Airlift with the Humanitarian Logistics Network, ©CDCS

A.B: A year ago, CDCS launched an evaluation of the FUH (Emergency Humanitarian Fund), the results of which have just been made public. What are the results of this evaluation and what changes can be expected in terms of strengthening CDCS, multi-annual financing and is there a risk that the FUH will lose its real capacity for reactivity recognized by all the actors?

E.C:

This is an important question. I think it’s positive that, since I took office as CDCS director in the fall of 2018, we have been working hard to strengthen accountability. This is a sine qua none condition for increasing resources, without ignoring the impact this has on the work of humanitarian aid workers. To this end, we have created an audit and evaluation unit that allows us to work both internally and externally. Then we wanted to go further by calling for an external evaluation of the tool that the FUH represents with a steering committee chaired by Benoit Miribel, whose work I would like to commend. I think that this is part of a transparency that is imperative, and that it allows us to be more effective and efficient. A certain number of proposals were presented during a remote meeting attended by around 100 people, which shows the interest of all the players in this subject. We are working on each of these proposals to see if and how we can implement them. They are each being studied very seriously.

To answer the question on multi-year funding, I stressed, during the restitution meeting, the need to be very careful to find the right “crest line” between injunctions that may seem contradictory. Indeed, the evaluation – which was also conducted in the field and questioned many actors – stressed, to their satisfaction, the reactive, flexible and rapid nature of this tool. These are essential criteria and qualities that are consubstantial with the FUH, with the advantage for humanitarian actors of being able to then go and seek other funding. However, I hear the recommendations calling for multi-year programming and more planning with other tools, particularly within the nexus framework. But this must not be done to the detriment of the recognized qualities of this emergency fund. This is why I speak of the “crest line”, and this is why I say that all the proposals will be seriously analyzed in the light of these sometimes seemingly contradictory injunctions, at least on the surface.

Humanitarian aid sent to Lebanon in August 2020, ©CDCS

A.B: Benoit Miribel stressed, during the recent public restitution of the FUH evaluation, that whenever there was complementarity between civil society and public authorities, there was great progress. Thus, 10 years ago, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bernard Kouchner, of whom you were the special advisor, entrusted Benoit Miribel and me with a report entitled “Analyses and Proposals on Humanitarian Action in Crisis and Post-Crisis Situations”. This report contributed, in conjunction with the CDCS, to major progress for humanitarian action in France, with the creation of the Humanitarian Action Group, the National Humanitarian Conference and the Humanitarian Strategy of the French Republic (SHRF). However, a reform of ODA has recently been launched which includes humanitarian aid. In addition, the Strategy of the French Republic expires in 2022 and a new phase of this Strategy for the period 2023-2027 is to be anticipated. Isn’t it time to make this ODA reform coincide, if not coordinate, with the updating of the humanitarian strategy (SHRF) and its means?

E.C:

This CNH was held at the halfway point of the French humanitarian strategy, and we still have at least 18 months to draw the necessary lessons. I would like to remind you that in Parliament, the discussion of the development bill put forward by Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is underway. It was a long-awaited bill, which in the current context was not necessarily self-evident, and is now on the agenda of the National Assembly and the Senate. I do not wish to pre-empt the parliamentary debate. I believe that today we must give parliamentarians the opportunity to take up this humanitarian issue. I was struck very positively by the strong involvement of several parliamentarians who are very involved and very knowledgeable about the issues at stake in the preparation and conduct of the CNH. This is a strong signal for humanitarian aid and development.

Eric Chevallier in Sinjar (Iraq) on the construction site of the future operating block – October 2019, ©CDCS

A.B: Would you like to complete this interview by concluding it?

E.C:

I will conclude on a perhaps more personal note, to say that I am very happy to have taken over the leadership of the CDCS in the fall of 2018. I find that we are in a rich period from the point of view of humanitarian action and dialogue between the State and non-governmental actors. The challenges are certainly greater, but the opportunity to work together is increasing, and to do so with respect for each other. I know the humanitarian world from the inside, although it is no longer my function today, and that is why I can understand the current challenges. We can work together while naturally respecting each other’s missions, perimeters and identities. We’ve made a lot of progress from this point of view when you look back at the previous decades, during which there was a form of misunderstanding. I believe that we have collectively broken down a number of preconceptions and postures that were an obstacle to true dialogue and the construction of a partnership. This does not prevent each of us from defending our identity and concerns in a clear, frank and constructive manner. When I leave the CDCS, it will be with the deep satisfaction of having, I hope, contributed to the densification of this dynamic. There is still a long way to go, but it is a positive and notchy evolution, which should be a barrier to an undesirable backtracking. To do so, we must maintain a dialogue of trust, again sincere and frank. I’m relatively confident on this subject, because if we’ve been able to do all this for three years it’s because there is a formidable team within the CDCS that has become more professional and has taken ownership of these issues with a concern for rich and constant dialogue. It is a capital that will not be lost. And I would like to thank the CDCS team, especially the one in charge of humanitarian and stabilization issues, for the commitment, dedication and absolutely remarkable work that has enabled us to move forward.

Who is Eric Chevallier?

A graduate of the University of Paris V – School of Medicine and Sciences-Po Paris, Eric Chevallier has nearly 30 years of experience in French diplomacy and in the field of crises and conflicts.

He was Ambassador to Syria from 2009 to 2012, then Ambassador for Syria from 2012 to 2014 following the closure of the Embassy, before being appointed Ambassador of France to Qatar. From 2007 to 2009, he worked as special advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Previously, he was Director of International Missions for the NGO Médecins du Monde. He was also successively Deputy Delegate and National Coordinator at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for French aid to tsunami-affected countries. He has also held the positions of Deputy Director for International Crisis Follow-up at the General Secretariat of National Defense, Special Advisor to the Minister of Health, Special Advisor to the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Technical Advisor to the Secretary of State for Health, Delegate General of the NGO Aide Médicale Internationale, member of the UNAIDS creation team, and Program Manager at the International Children’s Centre.

Eric Chevallier was named Knight of the Legion of Honor in 2012.

EMERGENCY HUMANITARIAN ACTION AND STABILIZATION IN CRISIS ZONES

 The two missions of the CDCS are the security of French citizens abroad on the one hand, and humanitarian response and support for stabilization on the other. The humanitarian response aims to meet the vital needs of populations facing large-scale crises.  Stabilization support is provided to support post-crisis recovery in post-conflict contexts, to meet the needs of populations and to support the recovery of the State.

 KEY EVENTS IN 2020

  • A total executed budget of 126 million euros in 2020 (compared to 92 million euros in 2019)
    • 3 million entered in the initial 2020 finance law (compared to ’45 million in 2019).
    • 7 million euros of additional appropriations granted during the year to meet specific humanitarian needs or political priorities (presidential program for Syria, consequences of Covid-19, fund to support victims of ethnic and religious violence in the Middle East).
  • 250 projects financed in 31 countries.
  • 86 NGOs financed, out of more than 100 public and private partners.
  • Significant support to French NGOs, which receive nearly 70% of the funding granted to NGOs.