Romain Schneider, Minister for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs, appeared on 22 September 2015 before the Development Committee (DEVE) of the European Parliament in Brussels to present the priorities of the Luxembourg Presidency on humanitarian aid.
The Luxembourg Presidency will facilitate the debate as part of the World Humanitarian Summit with a view to establishing a common European position reaffirming humanitarian principles. The other two priorities are coordination between humanitarian and civil protection actors following natural disasters, and the issue of protection in conflict situations.
The objective is to make the humanitarian system more efficient and effective
By way of introduction, Romain Schneider sketched a picture of the context of humanitarian aid. The European Union is an "internationally recognised humanitarian actor" both for its financial assistance and for its expertise, stressed the minister. But "as the landscape of humanitarian crises continues to change and deteriorate", the humanitarian system is being put "to the test", he noted. "The humanitarian system as we know it needs a substantial overhaul" according to the Minister, presenting the three priorities of the Luxembourg Presidency to the MEPs, which have the "common goal of making the humanitarian system more efficient and effective", in accordance with the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid and the principles of the "Good Humanitarian Donorship".
The first priority of the Luxembourg presidency in terms of humanitarian aid is to be proactive in ensuring that the European Union speaks with one voice during the first World Humanitarian Summit which will be held in Istanbul in May 2016. Romain Schneider described to MEPs how he intends to reach a common European position following the adoption by the European Commission of its communication on the summit. In particular, he wishes to add a policy debate on the World Humanitarian Summit to the agenda of the Foreign Affairs Development Council of 26 October 2015, and suggests that Council conclusions should be drawn up on foot of the discussions.
"This Council will also allow "discussion not only on the gaps in the humanitarian system, but also to look further and address the issue of adjustments we need to make to the EU's humanitarian instruments", Romain Schneider continued. He hopes that the systemic issues in humanitarian action will continue to be on the agenda of the Foreign Affairs Development Council beyond that date.
The second priority of the Luxembourg Presidency concerns the coordination between the humanitarian and civil protection actors. In the wake of the work carried out under the Italian Presidency, Romain Schneider explained that the debate would focus on identifying concrete actions to improve cooperation between the two communities. On the foot of a workshop held in Luxembourg in July, 11 recommendations were drawn up, some of which should be implemented at European level. "There will probably be a list of priority actions to be discussed at the next joint meetings of the Council", the minister believes.
The third priority is linked to the protection of the most vulnerable people in conflict situations, Romain Schneider explained. The Luxembourg Presidency intends to advocate for:
- asserting the universality of the humanitarian imperative,
- emphasising the importance of access of humanitarian actors to populations affected by conflict and their involvement in any humanitarian planning,
- reminding all parties involved of the obligation to ensure the safety and protection of humanitarian workers and structures and
- strengthening the self-protection capabilities of the affected persons and communities.
Romain Schneider intends to launch a debate between Member States on the subject of funding for protection programs and he announced to MEPs that the Presidency and the Commission will submit a discussion paper presenting some concrete ways to make Member State funding more flexible in this area.
"Our first responsibility is to ensure that the most vulnerable victims of the Syrian conflict receive to humanitarian assistance in dignity"
"We will follow both the major international humanitarian crises and the forgotten crises", Romain Schneider added to the list of priorities of the Presidency. He focussed in particular on the lessons that must be drawn from the Ebola outbreak, a subject that will be addressed at a conference in Mondorf-Les-Bains in October. The recommendations made by the MEP Charles Goerens in his report on the issue will be "placed at the centre of the discussions", assured the Minister.
"We will focus on humanitarian financing", said Romain Schneider. The Presidency will propose discussing modalities such as multiannual funding, which is an important planning basis for humanitarian partners, he explained. During the discussion that followed, several parlementarians were concerned to see that funds intended for development aid are being used for humanitarian aid. Romain Schneider reiterated that funding remains essential, even when coordination efforts are made to increase the effectiveness of aid.
"We will focus on the link between humanitarian action and long-term development in the Council", Romain Schneider specified, alluding to a workshop held on 9 September on the issue of violence against women in conflict situations. The Minister also referred to a joint session of the committees COHAFA and CODEV which will be devoted in November to the subject of displacement crises and people in protracted displacement, a subject directly related to the migration issue.
"We urge governments, donors and other actors to adopt a multisectoral approach and foster links between the search for sustainable solutions to humanitarian, development and prevention programmes - with a view to developing resilience", Romain Schneider continued. "Humanitarian instruments alone are insufficient to address the true root causes of protracted displacement crises", he underlined.
The Minister confirmed his intention to continue to call upon "the Member States to honour their commitments on the protracted regional crises we are faced with today". "On foot of the letter from President Schulz of 16 September, Member States will work together to address the issue of additional contributions on behalf of the UNHCR and the WFP in the context of the Syrian crisis as soon as possible", Romain Schneider confirmed on the eve of a European Council session devoted in part to this issue. Before the MEPs, the Minister announced Luxembourg's intention to increase its contribution by 20 %, while calling for the EU to give more. "Our first responsibility is to ensure that the most vulnerable victims of the Syrian conflict are entitled to receive humanitarian assistance in dignity", concluded Romain Schneider.
Several MEPs questioned the example the EU is giving to the rest of the world in its handling of the refugee crisis. While, the EU is a major donor of funds, it must also be able to live up to the principles it defends, as several parlementarians argued, who see in this crisis "a test of the credibility" of the EU. Romain Schneider highlighted the complexity of the matter, stressing that strenghtening humanitarian aid in Syria and neighbouring countries is part of the solution, along with an internal component, and factors relating to the development policy, the policy of return or readmission. What matters is "working on the root causes", he emphasised, stressing that long-term development aid may offer prospects to countries mainly populated by young people.