Letter from France
Most of the challenges we face as a continent, from climate change to increased inequalities, are global in nature. That means they also confront other regions of the world. To address them we need to engage actively with these other regions. Growing interdependence is a fact in today’s world.
A large segment of France’s citizens place great importance on the transition to sustainable development, with ambitious climate action. They care for the planet, for the well-being of future generations and for their own health. They understand that Europe, and France within Europe, will be better off if it takes a frontrunner position in this transition, be it for our own local environment, to protect the global climate, or to be better placed in economic competition with global powers like China and the United States. But their trust in political action is eroding.
Some are asking if we can really believe that the prominent international positions taken by France and the European Union, with the Paris Agreement on climate and the sustainable development agenda, and the French president’s response to US President Trump’s unilateralist announcements, will soon be effectively translated into real decisions. Others are asking if we can trust that the transition efforts we demand of our own citizens will be matched by efforts from other players who bear an even bigger responsibility for unsustainable practices, here and abroad.
The Union has to be able to present itself as a global champion of sustainability, while ensuring that all member states implement a just transition without free-riders, negotiating fair conditions of competition with trade partners and guiding allocation of its development investments outside Europe.
French citizens are convinced that using French and European taxpayers’ money to finance development is a good investment – though this may be because they believe that this is a way to control migration.
The increase in the budget for external action proposed by the former Commission probably seems a valid political choice for your new Parliament, and for member states like France. You will also likely applaud the flexibility of the proposed new instrument to enable rapid reactions to crises and reshuffling financial resources when needed between border protection, diplomacy and development in neighbouring countries or in least developed countries, particularly in Africa. Certainly, crisis reaction capacity is a positive political marker in our uncertain times.
But dear Europe, a long-term perspective is even more important than agility in front of crises. It is necessary to give consistency to your policies and those of your member states. A vision of long- term sustainability will restore the meaningfulness of why you serve all your citizens, in France and in the other member states. Cooperation for sustainable development and Agenda 2030 is the long-term pillar in your external action: so be very careful to maintain it at a high level, if you want to be understood by your citizens, particularly in France.
For many French citizens, Europe in the role of a soft power is the long-term choice. They’re betting on progressively nudging the much larger Chinese investment flows in third countries towards our norms and standards in terms of alignment with long-term sustainability objectives. Our common European experience, expertise and knowledge about what investing in development means is a key asset in that regard.
There are also those who believe it is actually globalisation that needs fixing, in the fight against poverty and inequalities, in efforts to turn around the degradation of the natural resources and ecosystems that so many livelihoods depend on, and in support of the resilience of all societies. It’s essential that you do your part to help societies envision and implement their own transformation pathway to sustainable development in the interest of the French and all other European citizens.
There are those who see investing in development as simply a duty of solidarity, an investment with no return expected. In that case too, there is a long-term imperative: to ensure the steadiness of development funding for the most vulnerable. Here again, Europe, you have an irreplaceable role to play. Who else on the planet devotes as much public funding to this objective?
A Europe that champions the long-term sustainability transition both domestically and internationally; this is a non-partisan political imperative that needs to be negotiationed. Will you seek consensus around that position, which President Juncker never dared or never managed to take? Among French political parties there are of course various versions of why this task is so compelling. But all share one conviction: Europe must retain and redouble its capacity to anticipate the long-term impacts of today’s choices and decisions. The long- term needs of our citizens and of the citizens in all societies in the world is what sustainability is about.
About the author
Executive Director IDDRI – Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations Paris/France