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European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response
Challenges and priorities for Humanitarian action: a European perspective
Opening address on the occasion of the French National Conference on Humanitarian Aid
Paris, 16 November 2011
Monsieur le Ministre,
Mesdames et Messieurs,
Je tiens à remercier le Ministre de la coopération Henri de Raincourt pour son allocution qui témoigne de l'engagement de la France sur les questions humanitaires. Mes remerciements s'adressent également au Ministre des Affaires Etrangères, Alain Juppé, qui a pris l'initiative de cette Conférence et m'y a invitée. Je sais combien cette conférence doit également à Bernard Kouchner et au rapport sur l'action humanitaire française qu'il avait commandé en 2009 à messieurs Alain Boinet et Benoît Miribel. Je ne doute pas que ce rapport va inspirer vos débats et que cette conférence débouchera sur des résultats concrets.
As European Commissioner in charge of humanitarian aid, I would like to pay tribute to France's substantial contribution to the advancement of the humanitarian cause in the world. Indeed few countries have contributed so much to the shaping of modern humanitarianism as France did.
Since the 70s and the French Doctors, the French civil society has given rise to a large number of highly professional humanitarian NGOs, with several of them having expanded a network of sister-organisations in other countries. And I have seen French NGOs always present on the frontline wherever the needs are most dire – from Haiti to Darfur, from Sahel to Pakistan.
I am also thankful to France for the lead role it played in the adoption of several key United Nations resolutions which have strengthened the international recognition of humanitarian assistance and the rights of victims (such as the UN Resolution 43/131 from 1988 on humanitarian assistance to victims of natural disasters which sets out a role for NGOs in providing humanitarian aid; or Resolution 45/100 of 1990 on the access to victims and the establishment of urgency corridors).
With a view to stimulate your reflections and debates during the day, I would like to share with you how I see from a European perspective the main challenges faced by today's humanitarianism ; the priorities for humanitarian action and the partnership between the different humanitarian actors.
Main challenges faced by today's humanitarianism
Today's "humanitarian landscape" has changed. The scale of the humanitarian challenges we face has grown bigger and more complex.
The level of needs has gone bigger as a result of natural and man-made disasters.
Natural disasters are more frequent and cause more damage. As we have seen with Haiti or Pakistan, we will have more of this type of sudden-onset mega-disasters which overwhelm the local and international relief capacities. No-one is safe from this, including the more developed countries like Thailand or even Japan the best disaster-prepared country. By 2015 the number of persons affected by disasters due to climate change will grow by 375 million each year. We must prepare for it.
Conflicts have decreased in numbers but their human cost has increased. We now face more protracted internal civil conflicts and (30 to 40) situations of fragility and failing states. These result in more humanitarian needs as the civilians are subject to deliberate targeting and forced displacement. Somalia is a case in point.
We also face growing humanitarian needs resulting from the extreme poverty and vulnerability of people at the bottom end of developing countries. These are especially exposed to food and malnutrition crises as well as epidemics (cf. Sahel countries).
Humanitarian needs have not only grown bigger but are also more complex to address.
The shrinking of the "humanitarian space" means more security risks for relief workers. International Humanitarian Law (IHL) is subject to growing violations by belligerents of all kinds posed. Thankfully three of your compatriots who were kidnapped in Yemen have been released a few days ago. But there have been lately several kidnapping of relief staff in Somali and Sahrawi refugee camps. [The European Commission through ECHO finances several specific actions aimed at supporting NGOs security. The EU is also the main sponsor of the UN resolution on the security and safety of humanitarian personnel which is due to be adopted by the UN General Assembly on 14 December. ]
The multiplication of actors (NGOs, private foundations and companies, military as well as the emerging role of non traditional donors) has also added to the complexity. With their aid these have also brought a variety of motivations, interests and practices. The risk here is that competing forms of aid weaken adherence to those fundamental humanitarian principles that guide professional humanitarianism.
Last but not least in this changing humanitarian landscape is the economic and budgetary crisis which put tremendous strain on public aid budgets.
Priorities for humanitarian action
What can we do to continue to 'do the job' of delivering critical humanitarian aid to people in need?
Let me share with you the European perspective on the priorities for humanitarian action. I would like to highlight four key priorities:
First (priority), we have to remain strong and firm on the humanitarian principles – There must a "space for humanity" in the most dire contexts. And there must a "humanitarian space" for relief staff to work. Adherence to humanitarian principles is a condition sine qua none for the acceptance and access of humanitarian assistance in crisis theatres. [as I have personally experienced it in Yemen where together with UN High commissioner for refugees Antonio Guterres we managed to convince Houthi rebels to let humanitarian organisations work freely in the are under their control].
With the European Consensus on Humanitarian aid signed by the three EU institutions in 2007 and the Lisbon Treaty chapter on humanitarian aid, we have a solid policy and legal framework at EU level. It explicitly recognises that EU humanitarian aid which is guided by the sole objective of addressing humanitarian needs according to the principles of impartiality, neutrality and non-discrimination.
We welcome the recommendation of the report of Messieurs Boinet and Miribel calling for the adoption by France of a reference policy framework for French humanitarian aid grounded in the European humanitarian Consensus. The Consensus in a way owes much to France's contribution to humanitarianism.
By working together, Commission and Member States, on the implementation of the Consensus on Humanitarian, we will stand stronger.
We must preserve this principled approach. The political value of humanitarian aid, if any, lies in the influence of those very values it projects and the "soft power" it yields.
As lately it has become fashionable to refer to "comprehensive" or "integrated" approaches in external action. Let us be clear. I am all for greater consistency, but in full respect of the autonomy of humanitarian aid decision-making and of our ability to deliver assistance to victims.
Second (priority), we need to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of humanitarian aid.
In the face of growing needs and economic constraints, the moral imperative alone will not protect aid budgets. We have to ensure that every euro of tax-payers' money is used to the fullest, to have the biggest impact on the ground.
This is a joint responsibility which falls on all of us.
We have to be better prepared and more anticipative in the face of humanitarian disasters. This is the reason the strengthening of EU disaster preparedness and response capacity is one of my top policy priorities. We need to plan and pool our various resources and instruments in a more effective way. This will bring down the costs of operations. (let me refer here to Sahel where a severe food crisis is the making. We are mobilising now extra assistance while food prices are still moderate to mitigate the impact and save more lives).
At the Commission, we are also committed to cut red tape, to improve further need assessment and aid allocation methodology. We want to better account for results.
Humanitarian organisations have to contribute their part. A couple of weeks ago DG ECHO held its annual Partners Conference where we had a dialogue on how to increase professionalism and excellence of aid even further in times of tight budgets.
As part of the European humanitarian Consensus' action plan, we also want to ensure greater aid effectiveness between the Commission and the 27 Member States. Coordination and division of labour in the programming and allocation of aid is a 'must'. I am talking here not about a coordination imposed by Brussels but a smart coordination exploiting complementarities (Horn of Africa or Libya provide examples). (I and my teams see ourselves are service-providers to our Member States both in the COHAFA working group or in the field).
Having said that, we need to maintain significant humanitarian budgets. I am concerned by the cuts in aid budgets in many of our Member States. The EU humanitarian budget has now reached an average € 1 billion per year. We need to secure this amount in the future EU financial perspectives. And I hope we can count on France's support.
But we owe to the generosity of our citizens and to our Parliaments to show concrete results with their money. I am concerned they don't know enough about what we do together. We have all a responsibility in being more accountable and more visible so that our citizens take pride in our humanitarian action. [I always say "we the EU, the Commission and our Member States"]
Third (priority), we have to strengthen the synergy between Humanitarian aid and development policy.
As disasters can wipe out in a blip billions of Euros of development aid projects, we need to invest more in adaptation to climate change and in Disaster Risk Reduction strategies. As we face more situations of fragility and recovery we need to better link relief, rehabilitation and development. Think of Haiti or Côte d'Ivoire. Such situations should no longer fall "between the cracks" but become common policy objectives for EU humanitarian and development actors. I would also like to highlight the issue of food and nutritional security as a key priority which has also been very much at the top of the French agenda, notably during its G-20 and G-8 presidencies.
[Those who know me know how much committed I am to increase the resilience of vulnerable populations in order to reduce vulnerability. And so is Andris Piebalgs my colleague in charge of Development at the Commission. We are advancing proposals in that respect which we will be discussing with the Member States. And I hope we can count on France's support.]
Fourth (priority), we have to strengthen the international humanitarian system.
With over 40% of world humanitarian aid, the EU and its Member States should be not just a "payer' but a key player in shaping the international humanitarian debate.
One common objective for the EU and its Member States should be to improve the efficiency of the system. The reform of the humanitarian system under the leadership of the UN-OCHA has made some progress ; but there is still much to do. The emergency teams, the functioning of the clusters, of the Humanitarian country teams, the interface with the UNDP and World Bank in post disaster or crisis need assessment exercises, all need to be improved.
We also need to improve the governance of the system notably the promotion of Good humanitarian donorship vis-à-vis new, non-traditional donors. Turkey and China provide significant aid in the Horn of Africa. However well meant, they do so in general outside the UN coordination structures, with often lesser impact on the ground. We have to encourage these new donors to cooperate and demonstrate to them the added value of joining the established structures.
Linked to this, we also urgently need to draw bridges with developing countries which tend to see humanitarian aid as a Western enterprise and an attempt to encroach their sovereignty. It is quite telling that the UN resolutions on humanitarian aid invariably polarise the so-called G-77 members against western countries. We need to break this stalemate as this could badly undermine the accepted norms and rules of humanitarian aid, including the respect of International Humanitarian Law.
To make our voice known we need the support of France and greater coordination between the EU Member States and the Commission.
Partnership between the different humanitarian actors
Obviously all this represents a tall order.
And we can only succeed if we work in close partnership we, the humanitarian organisations, the EU Member States and the EU institutions. The power of partnership is that it makes the whole bigger than the sum of its parts.
In that partnership we need to recognise and respect our specific roles and competences.
The States play and will continue to play the pivotal role in international relations. They are the signatories to the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) conventions and as such have the responsibility to ensure the respect and promotion of IHL; not just as a matter of principle, but in concrete crisis situations. I am therefore of the view that the formulation of EU foreign policy and strategy should better factor in the humanitarian dimension, by raising more systematically key humanitarian issues such as humanitarian access and protection of civilians through its political and diplomatic action vis-à-vis third countries.
The Military forces of our Member States can also play a useful role in humanitarian contexts. They can contribute to the provision of relief and/or security, this, in well defined conditions which respect the humanitarian mandate and international norms, (the so-called Oslo guidelines and MCDA guidelines). We have many positive stories to tell and build on. France which participated actively in many EU CSDP operations, notably Artemis in DRC and EUFOR in Chad has a solid experience and know-how to offer when it comes to civil-military interaction.
The humanitarian organisations, whether NGOs or international organisations play a crucial role as operators on the ground bringing aid to the victims but also as advocates of humanitarian aid vis-à-vis the States and the society. Without them, not much would exist.
I am convinced that European Humanitarian Aid is at its strongest when combined with strong Member State action and vibrant dialogue with the humanitarian organisations.
Next year we will celebrate the 20 years of ECHO. I want this to be a moment of intense exchange, looking back at our collective achievements but also projecting an ambitious agenda for European humanitarian together with our Member States' and our humanitarian partners.
En conclusion, Monsieur le Ministre, Mesdames et Messieurs, je veux saluer l'initiative de cette Conférence. Je suis convaincue qu'elle donnera un nouvel élan à l'action humanitaire française. Nous avons besoin d'une France engagée et active qui ne peut que bénéficier à l'action humanitaire globale de l'Union.
Je vous remercie de votre attention et vous souhaite de bons débats.