The European Union (EU) as a whole (the Commission and the Member States) is currently one of the largest donors of humanitarian aid in the world.
The humanitarian aid dimension of the European Union's external action has become very important in recent years owing to the increase in the number of crises throughout the world and the Union's willingness to take on a leading role in international humanitarian efforts.
Therefore, in 1992, the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) was established. ECHO's mandate is to provide emergency assistance and relief (in the form of goods and services) to victims of conflict and natural or man-made disasters outside the EU. Its mandate also extends to disaster prevention and post-crisis operations. ECHO’s action is based on compliance with international law and the principles of non-discrimination, impartiality and neutrality. Assistance is provided by ECHO's partners, namely non-governmental organisations, humanitarian agencies of the United Nations and other international organisations.
Under the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid, action is carried out jointly within the EU and with ECHO’s partners. EU and Member States’ action is thus complementary and coordinated. It is coherent with the operations of international organisations.
The Lisbon Treaty introduces a European Volontary Humanitarian Aid Corps (Article 214 of the Treaty on the functioning of the EU), which young Europeans wishing to participate in humanitarian action can join.