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Kristalina Georgieva

European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response

The Commission and humanitarian aid: Actions for 2010 and prospects for 2011

Intervention of Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva before the European Parliament's Committee on Development

Brussels, 5 October 2010

Madame la Présidente, honorables membres du Parlement, mesdames et messieurs, chers collègues,

Je suis très heureuse d'être de nouveau parmi vous, à la Commission du développement. Je suis très attachée à ces échanges réguliers et étroits avec le Parlement. Ils contribuent à enrichir ma réflexion sur les principales problématiques humanitaires et à nourrir mon agenda de travail.

Honourable members, as the chair indicated, the objective of my presence here today is twofold:

First, I would like to give you a general overview of where we stand in the implementation of the Commission work programme 2010 ;

Second, to have an exchange of views with you on the main priorities and proposals for 2011 relating to my portfolio. The new draft Framework agreement between our institutions foresees structured dialogue between Commissioners and "their" respective parliamentary committee. And today's meeting is to meet this objective.

By all accounts, 2010 has been a very intense and demanding year. It has confirmed the wisdom of bringing together humanitarian aid and civil protection and the setting up of my portfolio. We have had to deal with numerous large-scale disasters and crises [top 10: Sudan, Pakistan, Haiti, Sahel, Somalia, Middle East, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Great Lakes region, Kyrgyztan]. I want to express my appreciation for the great work of ECHO in addressing these crises but also in working and delivering on a substantial programme of policy initiatives which shape my agenda.

Implementation of the 2010 Work Programme.

The first immediate "delivery" has been the adoption of a Communication on Humanitarian Food Assistance in March and its endorsement by the Council. We are now equipped with a more modern food assistance approach, building on years of lessons learned from practices and experience. We have shifted the focus from mere distribution of food items to a wider "toolbox" approach. For example it is often more efficient, cost-effective and better for beneficiaries' dignity that we fund humanitarian organisations to distribute cash and vouchers, which draw on local markets, rather than bringing in grain from halfway around the world. We also look into nutritional issues which are essential for the children.

We have taken leadership on this and are now working hard to ensure collective ownership of this new approach at international level. We have engaged with our humanitarian partners, the World Food Programme in the first place but also with our key international partners like the USA. One of our main tests will be the revision of the international Food Aid Convention.

It is high time the agricultural "surplus disposal" spirit in which the Convention was created in the 1960s is revisited in the light of today's requirements.

The Commission is also "delivering" on the three other major policy initiatives foreseen in this year's work programme.

Firstly, and no surprise to anybody, one of my main policy priorities for 2010 has been to drive forward the process on the reinforcement of the EU's Disaster Response Capacity. The response to Haiti and Pakistan demonstrated the strengths of EU’s existing instruments. We have done well. But there are areas where further improvements can be made.

Our main objective will be to improve the efficiency, the coherence and the visibility of our response to disasters both inside and outside the EU. At present, the deployment of EU assets is based on voluntary and ad hoc offers. There is lack of predictability. Europe needs a system that can guarantee that key assets are available for immediate deployment. We will therefore ask Member States to voluntarily place assets on standby ready to participate in a European response when the need arises. We will also make sure that adequate transportation arrangements are in place for the immediate deployment of EU assistance.

These proposals will form the nucleus of an EU emergency response capacity which in exceptional circumstances such as large-scale disasters, could be supported by recourse to military assets in accordance with the UN Oslo Guidelines and the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid.

These and other measures will be at the heart of a Communication on Disaster Response that the Commission will bring forward in the coming weeks.

I want to stress that we are most thankful for the Parliament's consistent call for ambitious proposals and for the views of this committee as presented in Ms Iva Zanicchi's draft report on "Setting up an EU rapid response capability", which you examined yesterday.

I therefore look forward to receiving Parliament’s reaction to the Commission's Communication.

Secondly, the Commission is hard at work on the mid-term review of the implementation of the Humanitarian Consensus Action Plan. The review will assess the progress made since 2007 by the EU (Commission and Member States) in the implementation of the European Consensus on humanitarian aid, focussing on the practical outcomes in the six action areas contained in the Consensus action plan.

Let me stress that I conceive of this mid-term review not as a mere technical stock-taking exercise. It is an opportunity to inject new political momentum in the implementation of the Consensus. Global humanitarian trends and challenges have vindicated the principles and guidelines of the Consensus. The implementation of the Consensus is in our collective interest, as a means:

  • To foster greater accountability for results (how many lives saved? How many people we help? The impact of our aid on the ground…) and a greater focus on aid effectiveness for and between the 27 MS and the Commission,

  • To ensure proper interaction between EU humanitarian aid and other EU external policies (CFSP, Development, climate change..)

  • To ensure that EU contribution at international level is better taken into account, not just in financial terms but also in contributing to the humanitarian policy agenda.

We have already had valuable input from the main humanitarian partner organisations, and we are now conducting a series of discussions with Member States in the Council (COHAFA working group) as part of the review looking at challenges and opportunities that arise from working together at an EU level on Consensus implementation.

All of this will feed into a Commission Communication and Staff Working paper that we will present before the end of the year. It is important that we hear the EP's appreciation of Consensus implementation and we welcome Madame Striffler's current work on an 'own-initiative' report (where I understand a first working document was discussed yesterday in this committee).

Thirdly, we are advancing on the preparation of the Communication on the European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps to be adopted before the end of 2010. Last week I opened the stakeholders’ conference to prepare the public consultation process for the creation of the Corps – as foreseen by Art. 214 of the LisbonTreaty. We are therefore looking forward to exploring various ideas about the best way to match the potential of this initiative with the needs, and fit it into the sphere of volunteering in the most practical and value-adding way.

The Communication will inform the institutions and stakeholders on the current situation and main gaps of volunteering in Europe.

Honourable members,

These three policy initiatives will pave the way for legislative proposals that the Commission will present under its work programme for 2011.

As underlined by President Barroso in his letter to President Buzek accompanying his State of the Union 2010 speech in front of the Parliament, the Commission will pursue the work on Europe's disaster response capacity. The Commission will present in 2011 legislative proposals on the civil protection instruments, inter alia to implement the recommendations made in the Communication on reinforcing the EU disaster response capacity.

The mid-term review of the implementation of the Consensus action plan Commission will also inform the Commission's work in its undertaking regarding the revision the 1996 humanitarian aid regulation. While this regulation has served us well, there is scope for a fresh look at it, taking into account policy and institutional developments in the field of humanitarian aid, and - beyond this - some changed realities. This is obviously an issue where I will seek your views from an early stage onwards.

Finally, based on the outline the Commission aims at launching a preparatory action on the European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps, in the framework of the European Year of Volunteering. The experience gained from this pilot will feed into the legislative proposal setting the European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps to follow in 2012 after extensive stakeholder consultation.

Honourable members,

All these policy initiatives should not make us lose track of our core day-to-day work of responding to crises, such as Pakistan, Sudan, or Sahel to name just a few of the major ones.

At the meeting of 31 August, when I came to debrief you of the outcome of my mission to Pakistan, you agreed that Pakistan should stay high on the agenda of this committee. The scale of the crisis is such that there is an urgent need to still increase our humanitarian support. This is why, last Friday (1 October), I announced the doubling of funds for Pakistan, which means that in the coming days, I will seize you again through the urgency procedure to increase the amount of 70 million that we have already committed from the humanitarian aid budget. I will also ask the Commission to request from the budgetary authority the remaining funds in the Emergency Aid Reserve [16.8 Mio EUR]. In addition, I am looking at ways to advance as much as possible the use of funds from the 2011 fiscal year. I hope I will count with your support to allow the Commission to respond efficiently and in a timely manner to the needs of the victims.

We are also currently in the process of finalising DG ECHO's operational strategy for 2011. I would be pleased if this Committee would allow me to come again in the beginning of next year to present to you our operational priorities. The strategy will also cover policy issues that might not feature as prominently on the work programme but that will remain high on my agenda for 2011. These include the whole cycle of disaster risk reduction (from prevention to preparedness and mitigation), linking relief rehabilitation and development and respect of international humanitarian law.

Let me conclude by a final remark on the financial dimension of the humanitarian outlook. Humanitarian needs worldwide are on the rise while public budgets are under strain. While it is our responsibility to ensure that we stretch every single Euro to the fullest, we also have to shoulder our global role and leadership with the necessary financial means. I am a fiscally conservative person and very demanding on the efficient use of money. But I am forced to recognise that the current budgetary situation is not sustainable.

In this respect, I would like to thank you for the opinion that this committee adopted today on the 2011 budget drawing the attention to the shortage of funds for humanitarian aid and civil protection and calling for an increase of funds. This is a topic we will certainly revert to in the context of the preliminary discussions on the future multiannual Financial Framework.

Honourable members,

thank you very much for your attention. I remain at your disposal to answer any questions that you may have.

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