The new centre-right Finnish government has decided to cut development aid by 43%, prompting furious reactions from NGOs and fears other EU countries will follow its example.

The new Finnish government, which took power on 29 May and has former Commissioner Olli Rehn as minister of economic affairs, has decided to reduce the budget for development co-operation by 43%.

The cuts will start this year. No more revenue from emission allowance auctions will be allocated to development cooperation. Another cut worth €300 million would come in the 2016 budget. The cuts combined would mean a cut of 43% compared to 2014. The funds available for helping the world’s poor were then €870 million.

The decision by the three parties forming the government – Centre Party, Finns Party and Coalition Party – is a huge turn-around in Finnish foreign policy, where international solidarity has been one of the core elements, Marko Ulvila, chairperson of the Siemenpuu Foundation said in a statement.

Rilli Lappalainen, secretary general to Kehys, the Finnish national platform within the European NGO confederation for relief and development Concord, told EurActiv that the cuts would “kill the NGO sector”.

Lappalainen said that the decision wasn’t unexpected, as it has been part of the coalition agreement. He also said that cuts were made in all sectors of society, but the biggest cuts were for development aid and for education.

He also said that the NGO sector had approached the government for further details, but those were still unavailable and would be announced shortly.

“They are really killing the NGO sector, especially the small ones. This is really dramatic. Finland has always been one of the champions of development and a reliable partner,” Lappalainen said, lamenting the consequences for the partners in the developing world, because in his words this aid was a matter of life and death.

The foreign ministry, which is responsible for the development cooperation budget, has already warned NGOs that they should prepare for 30–40% cuts next year. This does not only impact new programmes, existing contracts will reportedly be affected as well.

Representatives of Finnish NGOs and civil society have also published an open letter to Lenita Toivakka, minister of Foreign Trade and Development, reminding the minister that the work Finnish development organisations do is valuable and benefits the poorest of the poor.

They wrote, “We represent regular Finnish people who want to participate in working for a more just world. Development cooperation has wide support. Over 80% of Finns consider development cooperation important. If you implement the planned 30-40% cuts, you’re eroding the foundations of the long-term and effective work of our organisations.”

“We find it shocking that Finland, who has been a stout supporter of civil society, leading by example, decides to deliver a death blow to a number of NGOs, who will be unable to continue their work after these cuts. This is a worrying signal to send out, especially now when the space for civil society is under threat in many countries all over the world,” Reetta Helander, Communication officer of Kehys, told EurActiv.