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"Danish Presidency priorities in the area of humanitarian aid"

Presentation to the Development committee of the European Parliament. Brussels, the 9th February 2012.

Christian Friis Bach, Minister for Development Cooperation, Denmark, exchange of views with DEVE Committee,

Madame la Présidente, honourable members, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear colleagues,

I am very pleased to be here at the European Parliament's Development Committee.
My objectives today are to give you an outline of Denmark’s EU Presidency work programme on humanitarian affairs, and also to engage in discussion on some of the challenges in this subject area that we face today.

As you know Denmark is a committed and generous humanitarian aid donor in our own bilateral work, and Denmark is also keen that the EU is a major actor in humanitarian aid.  Rightly, the EU, and specifically DG ECHO, has a good worldwide reputation, but of course this does not mean that we can be complacent – we can always improve, and we continually face new challenges. I have just visited the Horn of Africa – of which I will talk in more detail later – and this experience has once again reinforced my deeply held belief in the vital necessity of humanitarian aid and the need to better bridge the gap between humanitarian aid and development. It has reminded me of the good work that we, as Europeans, do, but also of where and how we can do more.
I would like to cover 3 main areas today: firstly I will outline the main elements of the Presidency work programme; secondly I will raise broader reform and policy issues such as resilience, humanitarian reform and humanitarian space; and lastly, but by no means least, I would like to touch upon some of the countries and regions that face major pressing humanitarian challenges – specifically these include the Horn of Africa and the Sahel.

(1. Work programme)

Let me start with the specifics of Denmark’s Presidency work programme for EU humanitarian assistance:

There are a number of ongoing dossiers that need to be taken forward. 
As you know the European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps - EVHAC as it is known - is progressing, and can add value to the system  by encouraging Europeans to volunteer and by demonstrating collective solidarity to communities in need. Three pilots have been initiated and an impact assessment is being made. The legal process should start during our Presidency upon the presentation by the Commission in May or June of a draft proposal. And the first reading is expected to be concluded during the Cyprus Presidency.

I know the European Parliament has a strong interest in this subject, borne out by the seminar on volunteerism you held on 8 November, and the European Parliament will of course have a big role to play in determining the legislation - we trust we can count on your support in laying the foundation for a Voluntary Corps that provides opportunities, is cost-effective, builds on national and international experience without duplicating it, adds-value, and which works.
Another dossier we will deal with is the finalisation of the renegotiation of the Food Aid Convention - FAC.  

In line with Humanitarian Food Assistance Policy, we have been renegotiating the FAC so that it better reflects modern food assistance tools - cash and vouchers, and not just food aid – we need the FAC to be designed to ensure food assistance reaches the most vulnerable in a more efficient and effective manner. I know that the Parliament is following this issue closely and that you held a one day hearing on ‘Food security in developing countries: the challenges to feed the people’ in October last year.

We are nearly there – and now need EU and Member State agreement, ratification and signature this year. And of course, European Parliament consent is required.    

The third ongoing issue the Danish Presidency will deal with is the Mid-Term Review of the Humanitarian Consensus action plan.
Again, I know the Parliament is following this issue closely and generally supports what has been done so far - Madame Striffler’s ‘own-initiative’ report adopted by the Parliament in January last year was very useful. 

In the May 2011 Council conclusions, there were 4 main priorities:
- continued delivery of humanitarian aid according to humanitarian principles
- strengthening effectiveness by seeking greater synergies in programming and allocation of funds
- Strengthening synergies with other EU policies, not least development policies (but full respect of autonomy of humanitarian aid decision-making)
- Leveraging the EU’s role and influence in the humanitarian system – more efficiency (e.g. UN reform) and more inclusivity (e.g. outreach to non-traditional donors)  

We will continue to take this issue forward. During the Danish Presidency the Working Party on Humanitarian Aid and Food Aid (COHAFA) will take stock of the Humanitarian Consensus action plan.

(2. Broader policy issues)

Now let me turn to what is termed the resilience or the Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and Development (LRRD) agenda. To my mind these two terms are very similar, and are also linked to Disaster Risk Reduction. Whatever language we use, we are really talking about the fundamental and crucial issue of helping countries: to prepare for; to prevent; and to bounce-back quickly from, disasters and crises. 
I know Parliament will be holding a public hearing on LRRD in April which I think is important.  I can say that from my recent trip to the Horn of Africa, I have seen very clearly the effects of failing to address these issues and the consequences in terms of loss of life and human suffering.  Globally, and as the EU, we can do more and we can do better.
We are putting resilience high on our list of priorities. We will argue for greater priority to be given to these issues and for more flexible financing, particularly from the development side.  There is a need for predictability in development funds, but in the past – Haiti is an unfortunate example – we have seen the difficulties of moving funds around quickly post-disaster, and the consequences of this inflexibility. This needs to be addressed and one specific example is ensuring that the new financial regulations for the development instruments - such as the Development Cooperation Instrument – include sufficient flexibility. I know the European Parliament will have a say on these regulations, and I hope will help and support the efforts to make the instruments more appropriate and responsive to needs.

Furthermore, at the DANIDA 50 year anniversary celebrations that we are holding in Copenhagen on 16 March we will devote a good portion of the ministerial-level meeting to making progress on this issue.  We will use the occasion to discuss a greater focus on resilience and the Horn, and link it closely to the International/IGAD led process in Nairobi where we will push for real outcomes – such as new investment.  We will push for partnership through a Common programme framework and European Coordination in a larger donor network, and we will push for tangible investments in agriculture, livestock, natural resource management, etc.   

We will also pursue continued efforts in the area of Humanitarian reform.  This must not stop, but rather be reinvigorated. 

As you know a reform of the international humanitarian system was launched in 2005 focusing on four pillars: strengthened coordination structures, strengthened leadership at country level, financing and partnerships. While rapid improvements were made on financing and partnerships the progress on coordination and leadership was less convincing. In early 2011 the Inter Agency Standing Committee of UN agencies reinvigorated the reform process by committing to a ‘transformative agenda’ with a number of more concrete actions.

OCHA must have the leading role in this, and EU and Member States must both pressure and support OCHA. A joint letter from EU and non-EU donors was sent to the IASC in December to reiterate support for the transformative agenda but also calling for action and real delivery.

The IASC responded very constructively and have now committed to a number of tangible steps in 2012, including:
• A new mechanism for rapid deployment of experienced, senior humanitarian leaders at the onset of a major crisis
• Strengthened capacity of cluster leads and adaptation of cluster structures to needs
• Introduction of joint strategic plans at country level to specify collective goals and responsibilities
• Strengthened accountability of the Humanitarian Coordinator and the Humanitarian Country Teams

The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, appreciated that donors had kept the pressure on with the joint letter. She also reminded donors that humanitarian assistance is not core business for some UN agencies and consequently not prioritized sufficiently. The EU must continue to work with other donors to pursue this agenda with concerted action and common messages in their dialogue with the agencies. I hope the parliament will join us in this.  

Another issue of importance to Denmark, and myself, is the issue of humanitarian space.  We all know too well that humanitarian space is shrinking and all too often violated.  In order for humanitarians to do their job properly the humanitarian principles must be steadfastly upheld. I ask the Parliament to continue to prioritise and support this issue.
(3. Geographic issues)

Next, I would like to focus a little bit on one or two specific country - or more precisely regional – cases. 

As I mentioned earlier, I visited the Horn of Africa recently – I was in Mogadishu at the beginning of February where I got first-hand experience of the situation on the ground.  

Of all the countries I have visited Somalia is clearly the most vulnerable – destruction is widespread and a large part of the population lives in abject poverty.

However, there is reason for cautious optimism and there is a window of opportunity. Al-Shabaab has been pushed onto the defensive and the security situation in the Somali capital is better than I expected. The African Union Mission in Somalia – AMISOM – and the transitional Somali government have pushed Al-Shabaab back and although there are terrorist attacks, such as roadside bombs, there is a unique chance to help Somalia get back on its feet again.
As we - the international community and the EU - increase our engagement, there are without doubt significant risks, but the risks of not doing anything – in terms of increased suffering, growing numbers of refugees, more terrorism and piracy – are far worse.

I would also like to touch upon the Sahel region. In one or two instances in the past we have been accused, rightly or wrongly, of being slow to acknowledge growing problem areas.  Right now, the Sahel is one region where we must not only keep a watchful eye, but should already be implementing humanitarian assistance before the crisis worsens. However, humanitarian assistance must go hand in hand with support to prevention, disaster risk reduction and medium to long-term investments in rural development to protect food security and build resilience. Yesterday, the Presidency with the active support of DG ECHO – organised a high-level Council Working Group on Humanitarian Assistance and Food Aid (COHAFA) to raise awareness of the need to act now in order to prevent a new serious humanitarian crisis.  DG ECHO have been at the forefront of raising the alarm in the Sahel and in responding – I applaud them, and it remind us all that the EU must remain committed to this region and to other forgotten crises.     

(4. Summary and conclusion)

Honourable Members,
To conclude, I have shared with you the highlights of Denmark’s EU Presidency priorities and policies, and I can assure you that Denmark will be firmly committed to progressing the humanitarian assistance agenda. I remain at your disposal to answer any questions that you may have. 

Thank you for your attention.