During the last 30 years, humanitarian aid has become an important part of the EU's work. But the upcoming parliamentary elections may change the direction of the EU as a humanitarian aid actor. Photo: EU/Louiza Ammi. Source: Flickr. 

Development magazine explains

The EU's humanitarian aid – this is at stake in the EU elections 

With an increased global need for humanitarian aid, the EU's role as an aid actor has become more important than ever. But which part of the EU is responsible for humanitarian aid? Which principles govern? And how can it forthcoming will the parliamentary elections affect the EU's aid? The development magazine unravels the answersn on these questions.  

As a collective actor, the European Union is the world's largest donor of aid. The EU has two types of aid – the more long-term aid for development cooperation, and the humanitarian aid which is for emergency support.For 2024 is the budget for humanitarian aid 1,8 billion euros - which is just over one percent of the EU's total budget. Within this budget, the member states' own aid cooperation is not counted. 

Taking on the role of international aid actor was from the beginning far from a matter of course for the EU. It was not until 1992 that the EU began with humanitarian aid outside the Union's borders. Since then it has gradually grown. As guidance documents exist the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid from 2007 – a joint agreement between the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament. The agreement states that humanitarian aid can go to crises created by both human and natural causes, and that the aid can include everything from food and water to protection, healthcare and education. Four principles govern aid work: neutrality, impartiality, humanity and independence. In summary, the principles mean that the EU should never take a position in conflicts, but only proceed from the need for humanitarian assistance.  

Within the EU, the European Commission's Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) is responsible for humanitarian aid. Today, Echo has headquarters in Brussels and 40 field offices around the world. Like Sweden's aid agency Sida The EU does not run its own projects. Instead Echo collaborates with various UN agencies as well as local and international civil society organizations who carry out the projects. Echo has i day over 200 partners worldwide. The majority of Echo's budget for 2024 goes to countries in Africa and the Middle East. 

Since humanitarian aid is allocated based on need, the EU has made major changes to it financial distribution In recent years. The increasing humanitarian need in the world has meant that the EU has had to increase the total budget for humanitarian aid. Today, for example, large sums go to civilians affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the war in Gaza. 

The 2024 EU elections: What is at stake?

Despite the fact that the primary responsibility for the EU's humanitarian aid lies with the EU Commission, there are strong links to the elected European Parliament, which can determine the direction of the EU as a humanitarian aid actor.   

Firstly, it is The European Parliament which, together with the European Council, determines the principles governing the EU's aid work, such as the current guiding document from 2007. Parliament also acts as a supervisor over the European Commission's aid work and assesses whether the budget is sufficient or not. At the latest in March 2023, Swedish Tomas Tobé (M), chairman of the EU's Committee for Development, warned for to the budget was insufficient to fulfill principlesna for the humanitarian aid, and demanded a budget increase. When the budget for 2024 was presented, the EU had increased the support by 250 million euros for humanitarian aid.   

Second, the future of the apolitical approach to aid may be at stake. Today's approach is in line withThe European Commission's traditional role of being responsible for the smaller political areas, which also includes issues of competition and trade. However, this role has undergone major changes in recent years as the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has had the ambition to create a "geopolitical commission", which will make the EU a stronger, unified foreign policy actor.  

A more political EU Commission could mean that the EU departs from the principles of need and neutrality in humanitarian aid, says Susie Fogarty, among others, advisor to the EU's aid policy. Instead, the aid runs the risk of being awarded based on outsiders' relationship to the EU, and also being used as a carrot or a whip to set a political mark. Whether the Commission is to continue to be governed by non-political experts or transition to becoming a more political institution is thus something that is at stake in the upcoming parliamentary elections, when the President of the European Commission is appointed through the European Parliament.

Finally, the EU's party groups have different view on what the Union should focus on. For example, they have different opinions about whether the EU should primarily focus on strengthening its own member states or whether it should also broaden its horizons and work more with global development. As the EU Parliament controls the agenda, humanitarian aid can either have a greater or lesser role, depending on which parties gain the most influence in the next five years. For the individual voter, the election in June therefore means an opportunity to influence the future of the EU's humanitarian aid.  

The principles governing the EU's humanitarian aid
  • Neutrality: No party to a conflict or dispute may benefit  
  • Impartiality: Need should rule, and not vilka it is who is in need of the humanitarian aid  
  • Humanity: Human suffering must always be answered, but human dignity must always be preserved  
  • Independence: Humanitarian aid must not relate to political, military or economic motives  
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