PARIS, France — France, which is hosting both the G8 and G20 in 2011, made clear last week that the G20 is ascendant, and the G8 is not, the relic of a bygone era. The signs were everywhere.
President Nicholas Sarkozy gave the third press conference of his four years in power on Monday to present the French Presidency’s agenda for both summits. The dates and the location of the G20 have been known for months, but this information on the G8 was only revealed Monday, even though the G8 takes place more than five months earlier. The right wing newspaper Le Figaro had three articles on the press conference on Tuesday. None of them mentioned the G8. The middle-of-the-road Le Monde was not much different. It was almost like the G8 did not exist.
This is of concern because only the G8 has shown interest in global health, not the G20. Indeed, at the last G20 in Seoul, global health was not mentioned in the final communiqué. The G20 is only just beginning to look at international development.
My policy colleague Kimberly Sutton and I were in Paris for the G8/G20 planning meeting of international civil society organized by Coordination SUD, a coalition of 130 French NGOs. Civil society hopes to have some influence over the summits the way we did last year at the G8 when Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper championed the Muskoka Initiative, a $5 billion G8 commitment to maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH), with a promise of at least $10 billion more in the next five years. That grew into the $40 billion Global Strategy on Women’s and Children’s Health launched last September at the UN Summit on the Millennium Development Goals.
Because the Muskoka Initiative was such a prominent part of the last G8, I was sure that Sarkozy would at least mention MNCH even if he did not warmly embrace what is essentially a Stephen Harper initiative. But he did not: it was not referenced in the documents on the G20-G8 France website. In fact, health of any kind was not mentioned, except very briefly under “Objectives of the French Presidency of the G8 Partnership with Africa,” where it says that France will pursue accountability reports on health (Muskoka 2010) and food security (L’Aquila 2009).
France appears to be giving greater prominence to international development through the G20 than in the past, a welcome change, and has presented “Acting for Development” as one of the six objectives of its G20 presidency. But looking at the details of the development section, there is no mention of health. However, France will put a huge emphasis on innovative financing at the G20, particularly the controversial financial transaction tax to raise money for development, which even Sarkozy knows will not be easy to advance (“Les ennemis de cette taxe sont nombreux,” he said at the press conference). Sarkozy took the idea to the World Economic Forum later in the week, and the idea is getting lots of media coverage in France.
My concerns were confirmed Thursday morning, on the first day of our meeting, when Deputy French Sherpa Christian Masset, the director general of global affairs and foreign development in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, talked to us for over an hour but did not mention MNCH until he was specifically asked about it. Then he said it was “very important,” and mentioned the planned G8 accountability reports.
Thankfully, another G8 leader was busy last week ensuring that MNCH moves ahead — Prime Minister Harper, who traveled to Geneva to co-chair the inaugural meeting of the UN accountability commission on MNCH with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete. After the meeting, Harper gave an optimistic assessment on the future of MNCH, although he warned that lessons from the recent financial problems of the Global Fund to AIDS, TB and Malaria would have to be heeded.
And, perhaps more importantly, we have a maternal and child health advocate living inside Élysée Palace — Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. At the 2009 L’Aquila G8, she wrote an op-ed entitled “My message to G8 leaders in L’Aquila: G8 leaders sparked a revolution in health for the poor. They must now resist economic pressure to undo it,” in which she expressed particular concern about women and children.
Although that priority was not made explicit at the Élysée Palace press conference on Monday, it is certainly not too late for that to change.