European Parliament slams proposed cuts on humanitarian aid

Kristalina Georgieva, European commissioner for international cooperation, humanitarian aid and crisis response. Georgieva supports the call made by the European Parliament’s Committee on Development for the bloc to provide appropriate budget for its humanitarian aid efforts. Photo by: European Commission

The European Parliament’s influential Committee on Development — commonly known as DEVE — demands that that the European Union provides an appropriate budget to pursue its humanitarian aid actions, a call supported by Kristalina Georgieva, the bloc’s humanitarian aid chief.

“We are in a critical situation,” Austrian Member of the European Parliament Paul Rübig warned Wednesday during the committee’s meeting to discuss budget cuts proposed by EU member states. “There is a growing backlog on outstanding payments. It is unacceptable if the EU cannot pay its bills on time, it would diminish Europe’s stature in the world.”

The DEVE chairwoman, British MEP Linda McAvan, called on member states to free up the 250 million euros ($323.7 million) needed this year: “The European Council needs to show its real commitment to humanitarian aid in its approach to the budget.”

In October and November, the European Parliament will negotiate with the EU Council over the 2014 and 2015 budgets. According to well-placed sources consulted by Devex, ECHO is presently facing a 160 million euro gap in outstanding payments for humanitarian actions alone.

A Commission representative who attended the DEVE debate warned of the political consequences of far-reaching cuts, where some countries would risk failing to reach International Monetary Fund targets if they lose budget support provided by Brussels.

Georgieva put it bluntly: “If we don’t have the money, people die. Member states must realize that sound financing is not only morally proper but that it is in their own interest to bring down the flames,” she said, referring to the many crises presently surrounding Europe.

The EU humanitarian aid chief added that she sees a “belt of instability” around Europe, from Ukraine to Syria and Iraq to Gaza, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, on top of the spread of Ebola in West Africa. She said the complexity of crises that are occurring simultaneously is a challenge for Europe.

“Our member states are at their best when there is a clear purpose, then they mobilize well. But the EU is not good at dealing with multiple crises or with forgotten crises that have fallen off the media spotlight. Unfortunately, needs are going up in a world of finite resources,” Georgieva said, adding that ECHO hopes to mobilize donors in the Persian Gulf to respond in Syria.

However much humanitarian assistance is needed, she stressed that the fundamental problems underlying them can only be solved through political solutions.

“We must recognize that we live in a world of instability. We need to do more and to do it more efficiently — with a clear focus. Also, we must concentrate more forcefully on root causes of problems,” Georgieva told the committee.

DEVE also discussed the post-2015 development agenda, on which the European Parliament is to produce an initiative report as its input to a common EU position. Several MEPs stressed the importance of various issues that would need to be included or strengthened in the agenda, ranging from rule of law to environmental sustainability, agriculture and gender equality.

“But there is a risk in declaring everything a priority,” said Finnish MEP Paavo Väyrinen, DEVE vice chairman, while a representative from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Development Cooperation warned against the “Christmas tree approach” of hanging too many items on one tree.

“At the same time, if we then cut out items we would risk scrapping important issues from the agenda,” the representative said.

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About the author

  • Diederik kramers

    Diederik Kramers

    Diederik Kramers is a freelance correspondent in Brussels covering EU and NATO affairs. A former spokesperson and communications officer for UNICEF and UNHCR, he previously worked as foreign desk and Eastern Europe editor for the Dutch press agency ANP and as editor-in-chief of the Dutch quarterly Ukraine Magazine.