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European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response
Together we can make a difference: Europe's Partnerships in Service to Humanity
Annual Conference of European Commission's humanitarian partners - European Commission-Charlemagne Building
Brussels, 21 October 2010
Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear colleagues,
It is a great honour to welcome you today to ECHO's annual partners' conference. It is also a great responsibility. This 13th edition of the conference is the very 1st to take place after the creation of the new humanitarian aid and crisis response portfolio in the European Commission. As the first commissioner to hold this portfolio I have been now in this job for just about 9 months – the time it takes for a baby to be born. So I have no doubt you expect to hear from me what this new portfolio is all about, and what difference it may make in your work and, through it, in the lives of people you serve.
A great deal of what I am going to say stems from what I have learned from you. I owe your organisations and staff a debt of gratitude for sharing your experience in the field, and in the conference rooms of Brussels, Geneva and New York. In any place I went to the UN was there -- OCHA, WFP, UNHCR, UNICEF, WHO – working tirelessly to feed, house, treat and protect the victims of conflicts and disasters. I also saw the tremendous contributions of our NGO partners:
To each and everyone of you, and to your colleagues who are not here today: from the bottom of my heart thank you for the work you do in service to humanity. You taught me that there is nothing more profoundly meaningful than offering a helping hand to rebuild lives, homes and future.
And it defined in a simple and straightforward way how I understand my mission as European Commissioner for humanitarian aid: to raise awareness, build support and secure EU funding needed for humanitarian action and to ensure resources are used in the most effective way. And this mission is anchored in the strong partnership with you - the 200 humanitarian partner organisations of the Commission with whom we join hands to address the humanitarian challenges around the world.
I am fortunate to have the staff of ECHO with me to carry out this mission. ECHO is different today from what it was when you gathered last year. It brings together humanitarian aid and civil protection – an arranged wedding, but a successful one nonetheless. These changes give us an opportunity to do better in the way we deliver assistance and we promote the humanitarian agenda, building on the natural synergies between humanitarian aid and civil protection to achieve better results. The roles are different but complementary. They will remain that way. Let me add, I have been tremendously impressed by the commitment I have seen so far from ECHO colleagues - humanitarian and civil protection - both to their core jobs, and to ensuring that this merger works to the best advantage of those needing assistance.
And the results speak for themselves. In the last 12 months, 150 million people benefited from ECHO-funded humanitarian assistance through 850 projects in 70 countries across the world. In 2010, we have already mobilised over € 1 billion to address not only the three 'mega-scale' disasters, in Haiti, Sahel and Pakistan, the large needs in Sudan and the occupied Palestinian Territories, but also the forgotten and protracted crises in Burma, Somalia, Colombia, Sri Lanka to name but a few. And we successfully deployed civil protection in coordinated manner, as part of one team with our humanitarian staff, in Haiti and Pakistan.
Let me now move to the challenges ahead and how I see my role in addressing them.
Over the next years our work will be impacted by a number of factors. In my view, four will be particularly important:
The frequency and intensity of natural disasters and man-made calamities;
The trends in the world economy and status of public budgets;
The shifting balance of powers and the insertion of emerging market economies into the world scene; and
Here, in Brussels, the institutional developments in implementation of the Lisbon treaty.
So what do they mean for my priorities and my role?
First, I will strive to introduce policy and institutional changes to strengthen the foundation of humanitarian action, protect the principles on which it is based and increase our efficiency and focus on results.
1) Reinforcing the EU's Disaster Response Capacity
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, and the scope for doing more.
Our main objective is to improve the efficiency, the coherence and the visibility of our response to natural disasters both inside and outside the EU.
Disaster response should not be improvised but should be planned and predictable and built on strong systems. So next week, the Commission expects to adopt a Communication on Disaster Response, with a plan to strengthen EU response and preparedness.
We will seek to:
A strong EU contribution should of course act to reinforce the international humanitarian system.
2) The European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps
Secondly, next month, we equally expect to adopt the Communication on the European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps, foreseen under the Lisbon Treaty. Many of you were present at the recent stakeholders’ conference as part of the consultation process for the creation of the Corps.
Clearly the challenge here is to match the potential of this initiative, with the needs and to take it forward in due respect of the challenging humanitarian environment. The Voluntary Corps must add-value and fit it into the overall sphere of volunteering in the most practical way. So with the forthcoming Communication, we intend to look closely at the current situation and main gaps of volunteering in Europe. The Commission then aims to launch a 'preparatory action' on the Corps, in 2011 – 'the European Year of Volunteering'. The actual legislative proposal for the European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps is planned in 2012.
3) Mid-term review of the European Consensus Action Plan
Thirdly, we are hard at work on the mid-term review of the implementation of the Humanitarian Consensus Action Plan. You will have a specific session on this tomorrow, with the presence of Madame Striffler – the European Parliament's rapporteur on Humanitarian Aid, so I will not go into details on this today.
Let me simply stress that this mid-term review is not a mere technical stock-taking exercise, but also an opportunity to inject new political momentum in the implementation of the Consensus, as a means:
4) Work hard on the revision of the 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. This will be a major focus of our efforts in the coming year.Our first immediate "delivery" has been in the area of the area of humanitarian food assistance, with the adoption of a policy Communication 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 so that by feeding the people we don't kill the farmers in developing countries. We also intend to continue our work with a specific focus on nutrition, which is a central issue in addressing children's needs.
Next to strengthening our policies, another top priority is to secure future funding for humanitarian assistance.
Humanitarian needs worldwide are on the rise while public budgets at home are under strain. Despite this, we know that EU citizens are still strongly supportive of EU humanitarian aid. The latest 'euro-barometer' opinion poll has confirmed this.
However I see it as our joint responsibility to ensure that we stretch every single Euro to the fullest to have the biggest impact on the ground. The moral imperative alone will not protect aid budgets from the many competing priorities in the long-term. This is why it is critical that we continue to work on ensuring solid, comparative needs-assessments, on linking-up to other actors in complementarity and on strong advocacy for the humanitarian cause.
But I recognise that the current financial resources available for humanitarian aid are not sustainable for the long-term, when year after year we have to turn to the EU's emergency aid reserve for last resort. And in this year where we have faced three major catastrophes, we have reached the bottom of the money-pot well before end of year. We must work hard together to ensure that the EU's next 'Financial Perspectives' from 2013 on fully reflect the trend of growing humanitarian need.
Second, I will dedicate time and efforts to build alliances with the leaders of the humanitarian community, with our member states, but also reach out to the new powers. As never before we need to build new alliances.
Third, I will work within the Commission to build a clear and unambiguous role for this portfolio – and will also build bridges with others to achieve better outcomes of our work.
In relation to the development agenda, I would like to emphasise two policy issues, namely disaster risk reduction and recovery (a term I prefer to the LRRD – linking- relief, rehabilitation and development). Perhaps unsurprisingly, given my World Bank background, I consider these as priorities for the Commission in the years to come. I am personally convinced that we need to work hand in hand with development actors to ensure that disaster risk reduction is built into longer-term structural aid and development approaches. And the same goes for recovery. This is a joint endeavour which I intend to take forward together with my colleague commissioners responsible for development and climate change.
But we also need to make sure that the humanitarian voice is heard, loud and clear, in the wider external relations landscape of the EU after Lisbon. This means that I am working hand in hand with Cathy Ashton - the EU's High Representative/Vice President to ensure where needed that humanitarian advocacy feeds into political discussions in the EU.
Establishing good interaction in this transition phase is important for everyone, and for the effectiveness of our response. So let me add that good interaction is critical also to civil-military relations.
We must get out of our bunkers and talk to one another about the ground rules and the realities of how we do our respective business in practice. The seemingly ever-growing number of actors in humanitarian disasters makes it vital to agree on who responds to what, and where the added value of the different actors lies. Without these ground rules, we are only adding to the chaos of the immediate aftermath of a crisis, to the detriment of the people we claim to help. We will return later this morning to the issue of humanitarian space, so I will not dwell on it now.
Suffice to say strengthening civil-military relations, and thereby the understanding of the humanitarian principles and your concerns as humanitarian partner organisations, is a priority for me.
Let me now turn to my last point regarding the changes we have to deal with, namely the EU's institutional changes. I understand this is a matter of concern to some of you and I would like to offer reassurances in that respect.
With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty almost a year ago both humanitarian aid and civil protection 'came of age' for the EU. For the first time they are explicitly included in the Treaty. Meaning, Europe's humanitarian aid now has both a clear legal base and a strong policy foundation in the 'European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid'.
However, I do hear concerns from you about the changing EU institutional landscape, and in particular about the role of the future European External Action Service. Change brings uncertainty, but creates opportunity.
So, let me assure you: EU humanitarian aid will retain its independence - that is part of my raison d'être within the Commission and why DG ECHO stays as a Commission service and not part of the External Action Service. As the European Consensus confirms humanitarian aid 'is not a crisis-management tool.'
Ladies and Gentlemen, dear colleagues,
You must be by now fed up with listening to me. I have talked long enough. But I would not and I cannot possibly conclude by talking about you. Here I would like also to take a moment also to pay our respects to those who have paid the ultimate price for their devotion to duty. We ought to build them a memorial.
I am personally committed to make the safety and security of aid workers a top priority. This year, on the World Humanitarian Day, I have launched an advocacy campaign called "Don't shoot! I am a humanitarian worker" with the aim of raising awareness in the general public and public authorities of the dangers and difficulties
relief workers face.
Ladies and Gentlemen, by working together in our respective roles, for the common goal of alleviating human suffering, we can change the lives of many and keep the hope of humanity alive. We must all play our part. Together we can make the difference. And on you can count on me.