Interview of Philippe Jahshan, President of Coordination Sud, by Alain Boinet. On the financing of international solidarity following the Covid-19 crisis.
Alain Boinet : The CICID (Interministerial Committee for International Cooperation and Development) of February 8, 2018 decided to increase ODA (Official Development Assistance) on a progressive trajectory to reach 0.55% of France’s GNP (Gross National Product) in 2022. In the current context of the global pandemic and recovery plan, will this commitment be fulfilled?
Philippe Jahshan: If we speak in percentage terms, yes, and probably as early as this year! But this is due to the contraction of GNI (Gross National Income). Therefore, we will have to speak mainly in terms of volumes. We will judge whether or not the pre-COVID mandate commitments have been met on the objective of 15 billion.
During a recent meeting with Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs with Coordination Sud, the latter affirmed that the objective was indeed to secure the ODA budget course in 2021 at 0.51% of GNP? Are you reassured by these words?
The Minister has shown his determination to secure the means for ODA and we welcome this. But we are going further. We believe that we can no longer be satisfied with pre-crisis commitments. The situation has totally changed and we have entered into a major and historic rupture that must be addressed at the right level.
Faced with the Covid-19 pandemic, which particularly affects the most fragile countries, you recently declared that “France can no longer be satisfied with pre-established objectives”. Indeed, the liquidity needs for these countries are essential. In spite of a debt moratorium, the latest G-20 seems rather divided and wait-and-see on this subject. Aren’t we wasting precious time?
Absolutely. We’re wasting very precious time. If we take up Ester Duflo’s analyses, she argues that it is much less costly economically, socially and humanly to produce debt that is repayable over very long periods of time, but which produces immediate recovery – and therefore activity – rather than letting entire populations fall into poverty traps due to a lack of immediate investment. This, in fact, produces greater economic cost in the short and medium term, not to mention the social and human cost. In fact, our countries have made this calculation for themselves. This is the purpose of the European recovery plan that France has put forward. And for some, it remains insufficient.
We ask that the same reasoning be applied to developing countries. By revising upwards the pre-crisis ambitions in terms of ODA, in France, as in Europe and at the level of all bi or multilateral donors. Because there can be no recovery or sustainable recovery and stability without integrating a share of international solidarity into our national efforts.
Estimates of the human, health, social and economic cost of the crisis for developing countries are massive. Before the summer, the United Nations estimated the immediate needs at around $500 billion. And France, by the way, had initiated this mobilization. The President of the Republic had called on the IMF (International Monetary Fund) to release $500 billion in international monetary creation, and had pledged that France’s share (around $25 billion) could be directed towards developing countries. This, coupled with his commitment to cancel the debts of the poorest countries, constituted an ambitious roadmap. Unfortunately, the initiative at the IMF was blocked by the United States, and debt payments were only postponed.
So, if we take stock of the situation today, we see that no massive effort has been undertaken by any donor country. The European Union and the countries of the North as a whole have not devoted any additional euros to ODA. This is very regrettable.
The budget of the European Union for international solidarity is in retreat for the period 2021-2027 following the recovery plan of 750 billion euros. What should we think about it and can we hope that multilateral organizations such as the IMF or the World Bank will come to abound the indispensable resources by the transfer of communicating vessels.
To date, there are no guarantees for this. It is undoubtedly the calculation of several donor countries, as in France, to bet on a global recovery through the IMF or the World Bank, but as I said earlier, to date, this has not worked. National egoisms are taking over. We hoped that the European Union would do its part and make room for international solidarity in its recovery plan. The reality of the negotiations, especially with those who have been called “frugals”, has been one of sacrifice, especially of this international part of the plan. These are deplorable and short-sighted calculations.
When we see the situation in Lebanon or Mali, or even in Afghanistan, we say to ourselves that good political, economic and social governance is indispensable for the useful use of all foreign aid. What can this inspire the actors of international solidarity?
The variety of situations calls for solutions to be measured according to each context. However, based on these three countries, we can usefully reiterate the importance of never considering solidarity as an external object; that is, thought of by the one who helps, for the benefit of the one who needs to be helped.
In this sense, as in our own countries, the real nets of resilience and development are to be found in the vitality of the local civil society, its associative actors and those who create and carry out economic activity, especially social and solidarity-based. They are located in the foundations of citizen and democratic participation and proximity. They are located in the countless local know-how, often poorly valued in the history of development, because they are considered of lesser value than the technologies of the developed world. It is with these actors, and it is in what makes it possible to produce full, independent citizens, that international aid must be invested. It is in the actors who build true democratic transitions.
For the three cases cited, we can sometimes wonder whether the bulk of the resources have been devoted to this. We know how much aid is incriminated because it can feed corruption here and there, and it has been able to maintain impotent regimes despite common sense in so many countries. This is undoubtedly true. But it is not the principle of aid or solidarity that should be condemned, but the methods, objectives and real purposes of this aid.
As a vector and tool of international solidarity, many NGOs are impacted by the situation, at the risk of having to reduce if not interrupt certain aid programs, however crucial, at the very moment when their action is indispensable. What do you expect from public authorities as a measure?
We have made several proposals on this subject. A number of them have been taken into account and I welcome them. For example, that of relaxing the conditions and rules for AFD (Agence Française de Développement) co-financing for programs for the year 2020; the guarantee that volumes and subsidies for ongoing programs will be maintained, even in the event of a halt or delay in execution; or access for NGOs, like all associations, to measures to help the country’s general economy: deferring charges, access to short-time working measures, access to state-guaranteed loans, etc.
Finally, following our meeting with Jean Yves Le Drian at the end of May, we obtained additional exceptional funding of 20 million euros for humanitarian aid and development projects by French NGOs. This is a major effort in a constant ODA budget. But more than 140 French NGOs responded to the Minister’s appeal through Coordination SUD, for a total of 440 projects corresponding to more than 272 million euros. We have thus demonstrated the extraordinary vitality of the sector despite the crisis, and its capacity in two weeks to mobilize and produce proposals for action with the State.
I hope that this will contribute to transforming a little more, the perception that the authorities may still have of the role, capacity and effectiveness of French NGOs.
But beyond these measures, we also called for exceptional support for patronage and public generosity, notably by increasing the tax exemption for donations to 75% for the last half of the year, so essential especially as the end of the year approaches. I regret that this request was rejected by the government during the parliamentary debate on the 3rd budgetary correction last June.
I also regret that, at this stage, no structural support measures have been put in place to make up for the associations’ losses in operating costs. NGOs in particular have very diversified resources. They are strongly supported by the generosity of the public and by patronage. Estimates on this point are bad for the end of the year, and probably for 2021. The lost means are not recovering. These are all co-financing that the NGOs will not be able to honor, including from public donors who would have maintained their support.
During your interview with Jean-Yves Le Drian you talked about the LOP (Law “solidarity development”) for international development and he announced its relaunch. When could it intervene and what are the stakes for you.
The timetable is not yet specified. We are hoping for a relaunch of the project for this fall. The minister spoke of a relaunch as early as September and the CESE (Economic, Social and Environmental Council) has already been seized of a project rectified following the Covid crisis. So, this confirms that the process is resuming. So much the better.
For us at Coordination Sud, this law must embody France’s political commitment to build a world that is less unequal, without poverty and more ecological. It must enshrine our country’s commitments to the implementation of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the SDOs (Sustainable Development Goals), and in this sense, it must provide the means to ensure greater coherence between domestic public policies and international development policy. It must resolutely enshrine France’s commitments to the promotion and defense of human rights and equality between women and men. This law must also affirm our country’s commitment to the defense of international humanitarian law and all the humanitarian principles that are so often flouted today in so many fields.
We also believe that the law must enshrine the essential role of civil society and international solidarity associations in particular. The recognition of their right of initiative, stemming from the freedom of association enshrined in our Constitution; and consequently, the place and role of the citizen in the exercise of France’s international solidarity.
In short, we say that development policy is not just a matter for the executive. But it must be the business of the nation as a whole. And the law must embody it.
Finally, of course, we expect the law to confirm a programmatic budgetary dimension, projecting the ambition of reaching 0.7% of our GNI by 2025, and setting the precise steps to achieve this by that date. The President of the Republic, in his speech on the recovery he wants, stated that all public policies must be built over a long period of time. Development policy is, par excellence, a long-term policy. It would be incomprehensible if the program adopted in 2021 were to stop only at the end of the five-year period.
How do you wish to conclude?
By thanking you! And by expressing the hope that the crisis we are going through, which will probably constitute a major breakthrough in the history of this century, will be an opportunity for a better world: in other words, the trigger to accelerate the social, ecological and democratic transformations that are at work just about everywhere and to better respond to citizens’ aspirations for greater participation and consideration.
Last spring, Jean Yves Le Drian expressed his fears that tomorrow’s world will be worse than the one before; he was no doubt not wrong. Let’s make sure that this is not the case! And what better lever than international solidarity for this?
Who is Philippe Jahshan?
A graduate of the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po) with a specialization in International Relations and development professions, Philippe Jahshan has been involved in NGOs and particularly in Solidarité Laïque since 2002. After holding several positions as project manager, he became in 2009 the delegate for international actions, then in 2016 the delegate for external relations.
At the same time, Philippe has held several mandates in international solidarity collectives: coordinator of the Euromed France Network (2005-2008), administrator (from 2006) then president of the F3E (2010-2012) and administrator of Coordination SUD since 2010.
Within Coordination SUD, Philippe Jahshan has been particularly involved in European issues. As Coordination SUD’s European referent, he represented Coordination SUD within Concord, where he co-chaired the Policy Forum between 2011 and 2012, and was its representative at the European Commission’s Policy Forum for Development until 2015.
Elected to the Coordination SUD Board in 2012, he served as Treasurer and then Vice President. Since January 2015, Philippe Jahshan has been President of Coordination SUD (re-elected for a second three-year term in December 2017). He is a member of the National Council for Development and International Solidarity, and of its Bureau as an NGO. He sits on the Board of Directors of the AFD. Since November 2015, he has been a member of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council, in the group of associations. In this capacity, Philippe Jahshan was rapporteur to the Cese for an opinion on French Cooperation in the framework of the 2030 sustainable development agenda.
Finally, in October 2016, he was elected President of the Mouvement Associatif (the coordination of French associative collectives).