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European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response
Review of the 2011 Commission's work programme implementation and presentation of Commission work programme's priorities for 2012 in the area of humanitarian aid
Exchange of views with the Development committee of the European Parliament:
Brussels, 5 December 2011
Madame la Présidente, honourable members, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear colleagues,
I am very pleased to be back at the European Parliament's DEVE Committee. This is another opportunity to deepen further our dialogue and cooperation.
The objective of my presence here today is two-fold: I would like to give you first a general overview of where we stand in the implementation of the Commission Work Programme 2011 and present my work programme for 2012. Secondly, I would like to set out the main elements of DG ECHO's Operational Strategy for 2012.
I. Implementation of the 2011 and 2012 Work Programme.
Let me go through the 5 key inter-institutional files of my portfolio.
1. Disaster response Capacity
My main policy priority for 2011 has been to drive forward the process on the reinforcement of the EU's Disaster Response Capacity.
I briefed you in May that the Commission was about to revise the Civil Protection Legal Instruments (the Mechanism and the Financial supporting instrument) with the aim of reinforcing the EU Disaster Response Capacity and at the same time upgrading the importance of Prevention and Preparedness by introducing stronger references to those policies.
I am happy to note the very much appreciated support of the EP in this process well documented by the Gardini report adopted by the Plenary in September.
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 a lack of predictability. Europe needs a system that can guarantee key assets for immediate deployment. We will therefore ask Member States to voluntarily place assets on standby, ready to contribute to a European response when the need arises.
The Commission will be adopting these proposals now very soon and I count on the EP's continued and precious support during the legislative procedure.
2. The implementation of the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid.
The mid-term review of the implementation of the Consensus Action Plan, on which the Commission adopted a Communication in December 2010, continued to be another policy priority throughout this year.
It was important to hear the EP's appreciation of the Consensus implementation and I welcomed Madame Striffler's 'own-initiative' report adopted by the Parliament in January this year. A further milestone in this process was reached in May with the adoption of Council conclusions whose implementation we are working on with Member States with four main priorities to guide our action:
We have contemplated the possibility to revise the Humanitarian Aid regulation in order to improve the effectiveness of humanitarian aid at EU policy. It was originally listed as a strategic initiative in the CWP 2011. We have however considered that this process needed an in-depth Impact Assessment process and more stakeholder consultations in order to carefully prepare the ground. We are not in a hurry – as the regulation has no expiry date and is not linked to the package of Commission's proposals regarding the RELEX financial instruments for the next MFF. Once we have carried out all the necessary consultations, notably with the European Parliament, we will have a much clearer view on the elements of the regulation which need to be modernised.
Irrespective of this, we will continue to work to ensure full ownership and implementation of the Consensus at EU and national level.
I am glad to see that some Member States have taken steps to develop a national humanitarian policy framework aligned with the Consensus [cf. France]. By working together, Commission and Member States, on the implementation of the Consensus on Humanitarian, we will stand stronger. And we count on the European Parliament which signed off to the Consensus in 2007 to push us to deliver more in 2012.
3. European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps
In its Communication in 2010 the Commission identified gaps and areas where the EVHAC is likely to have an added value. These include (i) identification and selection of volunteers, (ii) training and (iii) deployment.
In 2011 we carried out stakeholder consultations and launched pilot projects, which will test some of the features of the EVHAC through the selection, training and deployment of a limited number of volunteers (For example young inexperienced volunteers versus experienced or retired professionals; Long term deployment versus short term crisis response; Deployment in groups of volunteers versus individual deployment).
In accordance with the Commission Work Programme 2012, I will put forward a proposal for a Regulation on the Voluntary Corps by mid next year. I would hope to be able to count on your support during the legislative process on this concrete form of people-to-people solidarity. We also are ready to listen to your suggestions and ideas for a name which is appealing to our European citizens.
4. Food Aid Convention
As you know, the EU has been the driving force behind the renegotiation of the FAC of 1999. In line with EU Humanitarian Food Assistance Policy, we have been striving to modernise the international Food Assistance Convention: clearly needs-based, reflecting modern food assistance tools (e.g. cash and vouchers) in an effort to reach the most vulnerable in a more efficient and effective manner.
Six negotiation sessions have taken place in 2011, and my collaborators have briefed you on those at several occasions. We are now close to finalization; I expect the procedure for conclusion, signature and ratification to proceed smoothly in 2012, with the help of the EP, whose consent we will seek.
I believe that the new, modernised Food Assistance Convention will send an important signal as to the EU's continued commitment to provide food assistance to the most vulnerable, following a principled approach and with determination as to the efficiency and effectiveness of our assistance.
Finally, you are well aware that the Commission submitted its proposals for the next Multi-Annual Financial Framework in June and that the negotiations are now gaining speed. Under my portfolio an annual average of 1 billion Euro was proposed (1,010 million per year: 915 Mio. Euro for humanitarian aid + 30 mio. for the Voluntary Corps and + 65 mio. for Civil Protection assistance inside (35 m.) and outside Europe (30 m.).
The steady increase in the number and intensity of disasters and situations of violent crises will result in more humanitarian needs in the coming years. In 2011, as in 2010, our end-of-year budget will reach over 1,1 billion Euro. And as in the previous years, 100% of this budget will be committed and paid.
This clearly shows that the Commission's proposal regarding the humanitarian aid in the next Multi-Annual Financial Framework of 1 billion Euro a year is fully justified and very reasonable .We need in addition a sufficient emergency reserve to respond to these sudden-onset emergencies. That is why the Emergency Aid Reserve is the second key element in our proposal - with a proposed increase to € 350 million per year for 2014-20 if we want Europe to be able to respond effectively when disaster strikes and we are called upon to help. Carrying it over when it is not used is also an important innovation.
May I underline in this context that in ECHO we have a fast yet accountable screening and auditing process. The Court of Auditors gives us the highest ratings, our budget implementation is consistently 100%. A draft report from the EP Budget Control Committee also expresses a very high level of satisfaction about the way humanitarian aid is managed by ECHO. We are mindful that to succeed in sustaining support, our only option is to keep striving for excellence and value for money.
I need the EP's support in these difficult negotiations to at least maintain the level of this budget and the elements of flexibility built into the Commission proposals.
Let me also add here that we owe to the generosity of our citizens and to our Parliament(s) to show concrete results with their money.
I am determined to ensure more professionalism and more cost-effectiveness as well better reporting results and European visibility from our humanitarian partners (UN agencies, Red cross family and NGOs). This was the message I delivered at this year' ECHO partners Conference.
II Operational Strategy 2012
All these policy initiatives should not make us lose track of our core day-to-day work of responding to crises, such as the Horn of Africa, Sahel, Sudan, Japan or Libya to name just a few of the major ones.
We published DG ECHO's operational strategy for 2012 some two weeks ago. 2011 has been a demanding year which has seen both the range and intensity of crises increasing, and a consequent rise in the number of people affected. Whilst humanitarian needs have escalated, the pressure on the resources available to deal with them has not let off, especially in light of the global economic downturn. In addition, funding was needed for many protracted crises, and much of this funding will have to be maintained as we move into 2012.
The 2012 operational strategy covers interventions in 36 countries or regions. The five largest humanitarian operations will be in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the occupied Palestinian territories, the Sahel and the Horn of Africa. On a regional level, the majority of funding continues to be dedicated to sub-Saharan Africa (52%), owing to the persistence and scale of both natural disasters and complex emergencies.
Faced with this dual challenge of growing needs and pressure on the resources available to respond to them, I am convinced more than ever that we need to sharpen up our act on preparedness and resilience. Transition from relief to development will also be a major priority for the Commission in 2012.
While this is not a new challenge, the ongoing recast of the EU's development instruments offers a unique opportunity to finetune our tools for addressing the "gap" between humanitarian aid and development. I count on you in the EP to help us with this endeavour and am happy to note that DEVE will also work with the Commission on the resilience agenda. In that respect I welcome the DEVE initiative to hold a public hearing in April 2012 on LRRD).
We will focus even more than in the past on value for money in humanitarian aid. In 2012, I will encourage an increased focus on quality and accountability. Organisations delivering aid in the front line will have to coordinate even better and avoid duplication and overlap.
We have endeavoured to maintain meaningful funding for the many forgotten crises in which the Commission is often the only major donor. A share of 15% of the planned geographical budget allocation is dedicated to 10 forgotten crisis situations.
I have shared with you the highlights of my portfolio priorities and policy agenda. I remain of course at your disposal to answer any questions that you may have. Before concluding, I would like to add just one more word: nest year we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of ECHO. This is will an important moment to take stock but also to give a higher profile and visibility to EU humanitarian action. I would like to fully associate the EP to the various events during the year, which will mark this anniversary. Thank you very much for your attention.