What aspects of your personal qualifications and experience are particularly relevant for becoming Commissioner and promoting the European general interest, particularly in the area you would be responsible for? What motivates you? How will you contribute to putting forward the strategic agenda of the Commission?
What guarantees of independence are you able to give the European Parliament, and how would you make sure that any past, current or future activities you carry out could not cast doubt on the performance of your duties within the Commission?
Europe is a vision, a political and social model which I have passionately advocated throughout my political path. Standing up for EU values and principles throughout the world will, I believe, contribute to positive change and progress in our continent and beyond.
It was only natural for me to actively support my country’s EU membership. This followed years of involvement in civil society movements and political commitments which eventually led me to become co-founder of the Movement for Political Modernization, a political NGO which was a pioneer in promoting the accession of Cyprus into the EU.
It is a special honour to have been appointed Commissioner-designate for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management and I am well aware of the huge responsibility this portfolio carries.
My country has itself in its recent history repeatedly been recipient of such emergency aid and solidarity. I witnessed the hardship and suffering a war creates on both Cypriot communities. Humanitarian disasters have no ethnic or religious colour. This life experience has forged my commitment to defending basic human freedoms and the right to live with dignity for all human beings.
If I am confirmed as Commissioner, I will be drawing on relevant experience over the years as Cyprus Parliamentarian and member of Government.
I served as Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Foreign and European Affairs of the Cyprus Parliament and I was elected a Bureau member of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in 2012. During the seven years I served as a member of the OSCE PA, I participated in numerous of its missions and I witnessed several crises. Responding to these emergencies is not just a formidable logistical challenge that requires speedy and efficient implementation. It also needs to maintain the respect for individual needs and sufferings.
As government spokesperson I experienced how important it is at all times but particularly in crisis situations to be able to draw on strong teams and partnerships that have been nurtured over time through effective and open communication.
Within the new College the Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management will be asked to work hand in hand with the High Representative/Vice-President (HR/VP) and the Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development I look forward, pending confirmation, to this active dialogue in which each of us will have to make her and his own contribution to fashioning the foreign policy image of Europe. A Europe which in the words of President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker is to be "at the heart of action, a Europe which moves forward, a Europe which exists, protects, wins and serves as a model for others". In this concert of voices the Humanitarian Aid Commissioner will have to stand up for a continued need of the EU to be a non-partisan force of humanity, solidarity and dignity around the globe.
As Commissioner I will never engage in any activities that could cast doubt on my independence or compromise the exercise of my duties. The Treaties of the Union, the mandate given to me by the President-elect of the Commission, the decisions of the European Parliament, as well as the Code of Conduct for Commissioners will be guiding me. My declaration of interests is complete, public and will be updated should any changes arise.
Throughout the years I worked under the highest standards of behaviour in a transparent and open fashion. I have demonstrated that I act with courage and I have no hesitation to defend my principles. This is the path I will continue to follow without any compromises.
How would you assess your role as a Member of the College of Commissioners? In what respect would you consider yourself responsible and accountable to the Parliament for your actions and for those of your departments?
What specific commitments are you prepared to make in terms of enhanced transparency, increased cooperation and effective follow-up to Parliament's positions and requests for legislative initiatives? In relation to planned initiatives or ongoing procedures, are you ready to provide the Parliament with information and documents on an equal footing with the Council?
If I am confirmed as a member of the College, I will carry out my responsibilities in full cooperation with the other members of the Commission; I will work closely with the High-Representative/Vice-President and my other colleagues of the external relations team with the aim to effectively coordinate our action and concretely deliver on the ground.
Similarly I have the ambition to work in close cooperation with the European Parliament as we need to join our efforts to respond to the growing humanitarian needs.
The European Parliament represents the voice of the citizens; I have myself this year been elected to this Parliament and I know very well its importance. Accountability of the Commission to the Parliament and to our citizens is not just a concept but a necessity which must drive our collective action.
I am convinced that the European Parliament will continue to be a key partner in guiding our work in the areas of my portfolio. I am fully committed to build up an open, transparent and trustful relationship with the Members of the Parliament and especially with the DEVE Committee. The relationship with you will be one of genuine dialogue and mutual exchange of ideas and information.
In order to guarantee constant exchange of information, I intend to participate as much as needed in the Parliament's Plenary sessions. I also stand ready to appear before relevant committees as often as necessary and to exchange with the Members on all matters in the areas of my competence. Concerning the follow-up to European Parliament's positions and requests, I will apply the provisions of the Framework Agreement and, in my areas of responsibility, make sure that the Commission responds to parliamentary resolutions or requests made on the basis of Article 225 TFEU, within 3 months after their adoption. In this context, I support and fully endorse the commitment made by President-elect Juncker that the future Commission will be particularly attentive to legislative initiative reports
The presentation of the Commission's work programme (in relation to my portfolio) and ECHO's annual operational strategy represents an opportunity to further exchange on our priorities and implementation of our actions. Reporting on ECHO's humanitarian operations and the implementation of our budget would become a regular feature. I will ensure that Members are updated on our actions and receive accurate information (eg. through ECHO detailed crisis reports or factsheets). I will also share with you my analysis of the situation in the field which can improve our common understanding of the humanitarian situation. I will make sure that the European Parliament is appropriately informed and consulted on policy or legislative initiatives. As a general rule, I will share with you all relevant documents in accordance with the provisions of the Framework Agreement on relations between the European Parliament and the European Commission. Transparency is a priority for the new Commission. I fully support the new commitment to transparency set out in the political guidelines by the President-elect which I will fully apply to myself, my Cabinet as well as to the services under my competence.
I wish to continue the constructive dialogue you had successfully built up with my predecessor, which lead to a solid and fruitful cooperation between our institutions. I am convinced that collaboration is essential to improve the impact of our action on the most vulnerable people.
3. New challenges and humanitarian principles
Recent changes with a profound impact on global humanitarian response to natural disasters and conflicts include climate change, population growth, urbanization, water shortages, global economic shifts, the appearance of new humanitarian actors, and technological progress as well as stronger integration of EU external policies and concerns about military involvement and security policy interests’ impacting on humanitarian assistance. At the same time, the EU is driving for more complementarity, coherence and consistency between EU external policies, and there is an increased focus on strengthening EU crisis management via the recently set-up 'EU comprehensive approach'.
How will you make sure that EU Humanitarian Aid policy remains needs-based and in keeping with the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence, and not become instrumentalised for foreign policy objectives? What does the Commissioner-designate intend to do to address these challenges in preparation of the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey, in May 2016?
Humanitarian Aid is an expression of solidarity with the most vulnerable, irrespective of colour or creed, and should be delivered without preconditions based on the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. Those principles and objectives are those of the Treaty and of the European Consensus on Humanitarian Assistance. As such they form part of the Foreign Policy objectives of the Union. Based on this mandate humanitarian aid is deployed differently than foreign political, economic or security policy tools as response is based on needs with the objective to save lives and not anchored in foreign policy interests.
Humanitarian Aid responds in major crises, those that are in the headlines. However I am committed to assist in "forgotten crises" – i.e. where suffering populations are out of the public eye. The Commission will continue to respond to needs wherever they are to the best of our capabilities.
I fully support the EU's Comprehensive Approach to conflict and crisis and indeed to foreign policy in general. All tools have to work together from analysis to action. But the mandate of each tool has to be respected. As Commissioner, if confirmed, I will insist on the "In-but-Out" approach: EU Humanitarian Actors are "in" as constructive partners in the analysis of fragility, in the design of programmes to improve resilience and tackling the root causes of instability and poverty, in the dialogue of "do-no-harm" military action, in use of assets under civilian leadership, etc. But Humanitarian Actors are "out" when it comes to the pursuit of foreign policy or security objectives as precisely humanitarian actors are there to save lives amidst disasters and conflicts. Respect for the humanitarian principles is also a precondition for success as without neutrality and independence there is a risk of being denied access to victims particularly in conflict situations with the consequence that lives are lost.
Global trends confirm that humanitarian disasters and conflicts are on the increase. The World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) presents an opportunity to improve the functions of the humanitarian system and get better buy-in from many actors that today offer help, but who do not always deliver in the most efficient way. In most civilizations, impartial assistance to the most vulnerable, women and children, the exiled from home is imbedded in the values and in acts of faith. I look forward to the World Humanitarian Summit, to be hosted by a major humanitarian donor, Turkey, as an opportunity to build bridges of understanding of this common heritage.
Together with the Member States and humanitarian partners, as well as the European Parliament, I will explore options on how to provide the best input to the Summit. The input would benefit from the Commission and Member States experience as donors and as key policy-makers with extensive operational know-how. Our position should reflect the outcome of the WHS European consultation planned for February 2015 in Budapest. In the spirit that "prevention is better than cure" the Commission will also ensure that Disaster Risk Reduction and the objective of creating more resilient communities are duly reflected in the outcome.
4. Conflict and the protection of civilians
Most contemporary armed conflicts involve one or more armed non-state actors fighting governments or other armed groups, with civilians and in particular children bearing the brunt of these wars. Armed conflicts have a particularly devastating impact on children’s physical and mental development, with long-term consequences for human security and sustainable development, and access to vulnerable populations and security for aid workers are both essential for the effective delivery of humanitarian aid.
Can Humanitarian Aid be designed to help re-building conflict-riven nations and in the long term deliver political stability, democracy and peace and properly address the root causes of violence in fragile states and conflict regions? What role can the EU play in promoting compliance with international humanitarian law and humanitarian access to crisis-affected people? What does the Commissioner-designate intend to do to ensure that states and armed non-state actors comply with international humanitarian law and take special measures to protect civilians, in particular children?
There is a clear-cut division of labour among the different external relations instruments at the European level. The objective of Humanitarian Aid is saving and preserving life, preventing and alleviating human suffering and safeguarding the integrity and human dignity of populations affected by natural or man-made disasters. It is therefore foremost about a needs-based effective response. My first priority must be that this functions well and is properly structured and financed.
Humanitarian actors however cannot ignore the root causes of conflict. Poverty reduction and sustainable development are key to address the root causes. I will also work for more support to communities to withstand famine or conflict and to recover. The resilience of populations must be improved to better cope with stress, thereby increasing stability in fragile contexts. In this regard, I will, like my predecessor, closely work with the Commissioner in charge of International Cooperation and Development.
Addressing fragility before the tipping-point is reached requires action on many fronts. This is why within the EU's Comprehensive Approach, I will insist on more robust early warning, crisis and conflict preparedness and preventions as well as early recovery, stabilisation and peace-building. Drivers of conflict such as scarcity of resources and the effects of climate change need to be addressed together. In this regard, I will work closely together with the HR/VP and the other Commissioners with responsibilities in these areas.
But the threats to human life and dignity, particularly in conflict situations, are enormous. While the existing international legal framework is strong – all States have ratified the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 – the lack of compliance with International Humanitarian Law (IHL) poses one of the biggest threats to populations and a major challenge for humanitarian actors. It impedes both humanitarian access and the protection of civilians, in particular of vulnerable groups, such as children. As State consent is needed for humanitarian access, arbitrary denial of humanitarian access by States has become critical.
Some non-state actors are not even aware of their obligations under international law; others seem to choose to purposefully disregard them. It is important to recall that the primary duty bearers - those with responsibility to respect and ensure respect for International Humanitarian Law - are States, together with other parties to the conflict.
As Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management I will, if confirmed, see it as my duty to speak up with added vigour for the respect of international law, including IHL, international human rights law and refugee law, as well as for the humanitarian principles. I see it as my duty as Commissioner to act as the voice of the voiceless. And I want to raise the awareness of the plight of families and young children in conflict – notably through the "Children of Peace" project. I will carry out this advocacy carefully and weigh it scrupulously against the possible retribution against the civilian population and the security of the humanitarian staff.
In close cooperation with the HR/VP, who is in charge of the application of the EU Guidelines on promoting compliance with International Humanitarian Law, I want to ensure that the EU becomes the beacon for the respect of IHL. The World Humanitarian Summit, where "serving the needs of people in conflict" is one of the main themes of debate, will give the EU an additional platform to advocate for the respect of international humanitarian law.
5. EU Financing of Humanitarian Aid
The recent or on-going conflicts in Syria and Gaza have turned into the world's largest humanitarian and security disaster. Not to mention the unstable security situation in the DRC, CAR and Sudan. Haiti and the Philippines are still recovering from unprecedented natural disasters. Humanitarian needs continue to increase. Recent EU humanitarian funding shortfalls are having a strong impact on crisis-affected populations.
How do you intend to ensure that there are sufficient payments for humanitarian aid and that the Commission will return to predictable and timely humanitarian funding in 2015 and throughout your mandate, and maintain a consistent level of humanitarian assistance in line with the Multi-Annual Financial Framework? Furthermore, what will be your approach towards the Emergency Aid Reserve (EAR), which has proven to be an essential instrument to enable response in sudden-onset disasters and conflicts: will you make sure that it stays outside the EC budget and that it is allocated first and foremost for humanitarian operations?
The last few years have witnessed an ever increase of people in need of humanitarian assistance, including in Europe's neighbourhood. The European Union has shown its solidarity and its humanitarian budget has grown to historical levels of more than EUR 1.3 billion of new commitments both in 2012 and 2013.
It will be my priority to safeguard and further develop Europe's capacity to help people in need. Our Multiannual Financial Framework, which was concluded a year ago, provides a solid basis.
But the EU budget is currently facing a scarcity of payments compared to commitments. In humanitarian aid this is a particular concern: humanitarian operations are lifesaving – and therefore urgent and requiring rapid disbursements. The high level of commitments has in the last years not been matched by payments. Our beneficiaries need assistance without delay, and our implementing partners need the resources to act in real time. I will work with the Vice-President for the Budget and Human Resources, who is well aware of the challenges we face, to ensure that we can finance any commitments made. To maximise the impact of the EU's humanitarian aid, we will also work together to ensure the sound and performance-based management of the budget.
I will continue to deliver:
- First of all by using all available payments in a way to avoid as much as possible any negative effects on the ground,
- Secondly by mobilising political support for the specificity of Humanitarian Aid which requires payments to match commitments so that the emergency and immediate delivery of humanitarian aid can be ensured.
The Commission has already received a first reinforcement of EUR 150 million in payments earlier this year. It allowed EU funded humanitarian actions on the ground to be continued in a sequenced way.
In the coming weeks important proposals for transfers and for next year's budget have to be decided:
- EUR 250 million of fresh payments for humanitarian aid have been proposed by the Commission in the amending budget "DAB 3/2014".
- The specificity of Humanitarian Aid is recognised in the 2015 draft budget through a proposal of payments equalling commitments.
Both proposals must be endorsed to ensure delivery.
For the longer term, my approach will be to:
First, sustain the recognition of the specificity of humanitarian aid in the EU budget. This will require payments at the level of commitments on a systemic basis.
Second, secure the Emergency Aid Reserve (EAR) as a flexible instrument to respond to new crises and disasters with sufficient commitments and payments.
As regards the EAR and the other Special Instruments outside the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) the position of the Commission is unequivocal: those instruments are outside the MFF, for both commitments and payments.
In this context, I wish to thank the DEVE Committee for the adoption of an amendment to the 2015 budget, which substantially raises the level of EAR payments. I will work to ensure that this will be part of the adopted budget as well.
With your continued support I am confident that we can bring the EU's humanitarian funding back to a sustainable path, so that the increased funding stipulated by the Multiannual Financial Framework will become reality.