The Future of Humanitarian Aid in a Resource-hungry Europe

Article published on Dec. 6, 2010
Article published on Dec. 6, 2010
By Lorenzo Marchese & Delphine Reuter On November 30, the “''Security and Defence Day ’10”'', organized for the third year by the think-tank Security and Defence Agenda, brought together policy experts, high-profile functionaries and political representatives in Brussels to try to assess new security challenges, including whether the EU can still afford to be a generous humanitarian aid
provider when it’s being more and more challenged to secure its growing needs for resources.

Talking about Europe’s international role in delivering aid, Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, was both inspiring and controversial. She said Europe cannot offer aid as part of a pragmatic real-politik but rather should be guided by “the principle of impartiality” and by “solidarity”.

Jean-Louis Falconi, Ambassador of France to the Political and Security Committee, challenged Commissioner Georgieva’s position. He particularly focused on “the pulling and sharing of resources” as an example of priorities the EU should keep in mind besides disinterested humanitarian aid. One could wonder if this kind of position would make Europe, the world’s largest provider of humanitarian aid, sacrifice its core principles. Yet does the EU have a choice?

Europe, and the rest of the world, needs to ensure control of natural resources to secure the future of industries, the energy supply, etc. Some of these resources may soon be lacking, and Europe’s dependence on foreign countries might worsen in the near future; if not for water and oil, at least for rare earth materials essential to its technology industries. Ensuring political control of key nodes in the future years for security and even survival tops the EU’s defence agenda. What place is left for disinterested humanitarian aid if it comes second to the necessity of controlling resources?

Yet, there might still be space to save Europe from the dire consequences of its needs. Brig. Gen Giovanni Manione, Deputy Director-General for Crisis Management at the European Council, suggested a solution. He focused on the EU’s possibility of becoming a Global Emergency Response Team. Manione said that a country in crisis needs humanitarian aid to stabilize the situation, but that offering aid is not equal to solving the crisis. The goal of humanitarian aid is to stabilize the country. But only development can truly make a country stable on its own. It is then possible to see how a European foreign policy can be drafted while taking account of Europe’s practical needs and preserving its ethical stance.

Europe might have the strength to help stabilize through humanitarian aid the countries in need. But once the country is stabilized there is no further necessity for Europe’s humanitarian aid. Here, the country needs to start redeveloping and it would not be contradictory for Europe to offer more help, at the same time gaining influence and allies, and consequently access to resources.

This might not be an ideal stance for Europe’s foreign policies, for many dangers could lie ahead. But if these dangers can be avoided through a wise application of the guiding principle, the European Union might be able to provide humanitarian aid and at the same secure its access to the resources it needs the most.