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7th Dec 2019

EU aid chief: merger with foreign policy 'over my dead body'

  • EU humanitarian chief Kristalina Georgieva (Photo: European Commission)

The EU's humanitarian aid chief has delivered a blistering attack on recent suggestions her dossier should fall under the purview of the bloc's external action service in the future, warning that the increased politicisation would do great harm to the policy.

"Over my dead body," Bulgarian commissioner Kristalina Georgieva told an audience of alumni from the London School of Economic in Brussels on Thursday evening (17 February). "It would be a very grave mistake for Europe to do."

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Reports in recent weeks suggest some within the union are increasingly pushing for the merger, as part of the ongoing debate over the EU's next multi-annual financial framework (post 2013). Aid agencies and a number of MEPs have warned against the idea however, saying the independence of Europe's aid is one of its greatest assets.

"We are developing the external action service, and there have been some voices saying 'lets pile up our instruments designed to reach out to others: development cooperation, humanitarian aid, trade, security funding, and then put it under the one big umbrella'," explained Ms Georgieva.

"Luckily so far Europeans have been wise to say 'let's not do that'. If we politicise humanitarian assistance, we make it much harder to be able to help people. But also it would be a signal to China, Brazil, India and the Gulf countries that humanitarian assistance is not about helping people, it is about pushing your poltical agenda."

In other countries, notably the United States, humanitarian aid is considered a foreign policy tool amongst others, with geopolitical factors playing a part in deciding where and how much aid a country should be given.

This, said Ms Georgieva, limits the policy's ability to help people most in need, citing war-torn Yemen as an example. "I was allowed, together with the UN high commissioner for refugees, to go into the territoriy controlled by the Houthis rebels. Why? Because we are neutral."

The debate over the future shape of Europe's humanitarian aid policy comes after a year including an unprecedented number of natural and man-made disasters, forcing the EU to top up its 2010 aid budget from €800 million to €1.2 billion.

Five 'mega-disasters' in particular grabbed the news headlines: earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, China; a heatwave in Russia and floods in Pakistan. The commission estimates that the overall lose of life in 2010 was three and a half times to yearly average of 85,000.

Industrial accidents in the Gulf of Mexico and Hungary also contributed to the deadly toll, said Ms Georgieva, adding that climate change, population growth and increased urbanisation meant the number of global disasters was likely to rise in the years to come.

In a recent survey by international lobby group Burson-Marsteller, respondents rated the former World Bank official as amongst the highest performing commissioners after one year on the job.

Credited with considerable expertise in the development field, Ms Georgieva was hastily called upon to step in at the last minute after MEPs rejected the Bulgarian government's first candidate, Rumiana Jeleva.

"It was three a o'clock in the morning when, just a little more than a year ago, the Bulgarian prime minister called me, woke me up and said 'Kristalina, you need to come to Europe, we need our biggest gun'. I don't know whether it was a complement or not," she recounted.

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