The EU's crisis response to the tragedy in Haiti, establishing an EU civil protection mechanism and co-ordinating various portfolios within the Commission were among the issues raised by MEPs at the hearing of the Bulgarian Commissioner-designate for International Co-operation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, Kristalina Georgieva.
"Haiti starts from scratch, but not alone. If I am confirmed, it will be my immediate duty to make sure we Europeans bring to Haiti the best our Union has to offer", Ms Georgieva assured MEPs.
The two priority tasks in Haiti are firstly immediate relief, especially shelter and health services and secondly to restore the functions and service of the government, so as to start work on reconstruction and long-term development, continued the Commissioner-designate.
European civil protection force?
The need to make EU assistance more visible on the ground was reiterated by Gay Mitchell (EPP, IE), citing Haiti as an example. Ms Georgieva replied that the EU can be proud of being the biggest donor of humanitarian aid, but added that "we need to convince the Member states that a European protection mechanism would make sense and to move this discussion forward". As the report by Michel Barnier from 2006 shows, "more co-ordination and a structured approach is needed, but Member States have different perspectives and the principle of subsidiarity must be respected", she said.
European voluntary humanitarian corps
"Will you stick to the creation of the Volunteer Corps in 2011, or are you not too optimistic?" asked Birgit Schnieber-Jastram (EPP, DE). As 2011 will be the European Year of Volunteering and the Lisbon Treaty Lisbon foresees this corps, the timing could not be better, replied Ms Georgieva, stressing that its funding and purpose must nonetheless be assessed in detail. It would not be fair to take humanitarian aid money to create this corps, and the new structure would have to be carefully designed, she added.
Co-ordination at European level
"How do you see your position within the College of Commissioners, taking into account the inconsistent division of portfolios?" asked Thijs Berman (S&D, NL). Ms Georgieva "will be the voice of the voiceless people within the College", she replied, adding that in the end it is "not the boxes are important, but the commitment and integrity" of those who make the system work.
Judith Sargentini (Greens/EFA, NL), wanted to know more about what the "international co-operation" part of the portfolio covers. "I can see a more pro-active approach in building partnerships in the areas of humanitarian aid and crisis response, as in future more action will be needed as a consequence of disasters", said Ms Georgieva. Here she noted that if an early warning system had been in place before the 2004 tsunami, many lives could have been saved, and that aid supplies stored around the world thereafter had proven useful in Haiti.
Military involvement in humanitarian aid operations
The complexity of relations between humanitarian aid workers and the military was raised by many MEPs, including Mario Borghezio (EFD, IT) and Norbert Neuser (S&D, DE). Ms Georgieva took the view that any military involvement in these operations should a very last resort, because "any military intervention is like opening the Pandora's box" but "when there is no other possibility left, the military can be very effective and be of great help. In situations like the one in Haiti, this is the only way to help", she said.
High Representative Ashton could play a bridging role between foreign affairs ministers and defence ministers on one side and the humanitarian aid side on the other when the EU needs to take decisions on the role of the military in dealing with future crises, suggested Ms Georgieva.
Misuse of aid
"At the heart of humanitarian aid lies its neutrality and care for people who need help. We should never allow humanitarian aid to be captured by those who abuse power, said Ms Georgieva in reply to question by Ana Gomez (S&D, PT), on the appropriateness of aid to Sudan or Ethiopia.
If approved, Ms Georgieva's priorities as Commissioner will be:
- more effective use of resources, improving the co-ordination and effectiveness of EU actions and "make our fellow European citizens proud of their support for humanitarian aid and disaster response",
- with regard to the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid: more efficient aid, a better response capacity, and improved coordination within the EU and between humanitarian and military players,
- ensuring respect for international humanitarian law,
- strengthening the capacity to cope with the humanitarian impact of climate change, and respecting commitment to disaster risk reduction,
- establishing a European Voluntary Humanitarian Corps, and
- co-ordination within the Commission, among Member States, and with other partners in this area to meet the dual challenge posed by expanding needs and shrinking budgets.
In the Chair : Eva JOLY (Greens/EFA, FR)