Leader Profile: Louis Michel, Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, EU

The European Union (EU) is a large multi-lateral donor, responsible for channelling funds to developing countries from all the member states. Louis Michel is the European Commissioner responsible for overseeing the EU's humanitarian aid program.

The European Community Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) aims to support third world countries struck by natural disaster or conflict and to make EU support more effective and more humanitarian. The department was founded in 1992 with a modest budget, and now operates in over 60 countries, through 200 partners (NGOs, ICRC, and UN agencies). The Humanitarian Aid Office spends more than € 500 million (US$ 606 million) a year on financing humanitarian projects. "The European Commission is the second largest donor to the Global Fund to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in the developing world", said Louis. "The EU is the biggest aid donor in the world and the enlarged Europe has even strengthened this commitment".

The current focus of EU spending is Africa, "In recent years, Africa has given us tangible proofs that the continent is changing. It has developed powerful leadership and strong institutions, and the African Union Commission is gearing up to become the locomotive for integration within Africa". Louis said, "The EU response in the past was to open our markets to Africa more than to any other part of the world. But this is not enough. How do we now go beyond this? First, the EU wants to enhance the development dimension of the multilateral trading system, through the Doha Development Round, with a special emphasis on Africa. Secondly, we want to give a big push to our regional trading agreements with Africa. Thirdly, we intend to boost aid for trade".

As well as working as EU Commissioner, a position he took up in November 2004, Louis is also Mayor of Jodoigne in Waloon Belgium. Until July 2004 he served as the Belgian Foreign Minister. From 1968 to 1978 Louis taught English, Dutch and German in the Provincial School of Jodoigne. He started his political career as alderman of Jodoigne in 1977, and joined the federal Parliament as a representative in 1978 and as a senator in 1999.

In the future, Louis believes that continued support to Africa will not only increase the economic growth of the region, but will also help to reduce social tensions. "The Afro-pessimism of the last decades has gradually made room for a wind of optimism and voluntarism. The context has changed. Today, there is a giant opportunity to make of Africa a more prosperous, a more stable and a better-governed continent".

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