Aid to flooded Balkans is a model of EU solidarity

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Floods in Serbia [Out of the Box International]

The recent devastating floods in Bosnia and Serbia have proved exactly what the EU can achieve on aid when its member states work together, writes Nicholas Rutherford, .

Nicholas Rutherford is event director for AidEx, the leading forum for the international aid and development community to meet, discuss, share experiences and source solutions to improve the efficiency of aid delivery. The main event takes place in Brussels every November, with a satellite AidEx Africa event in Nairobi, Kenya.

Less than two months ago, Bosnia and Serbia suffered from their worst ever floods. Over half a million people were affected and the damage is estimated to be in the billions of euros. But while the headlines may have moved on from this latest natural disaster, Europe has not.

While EU leaders continue to deal with the aftermath of the European elections, wrangling over high-level appointments and dissecting the latest allegiances and alliances, the EU institutions have been rolling up their sleeves and working to address a different aftermath.

Next week, representatives from major donor countries, international financial institutions and civil organisations will meet in Brussels for a high-level conference hosted by the European Commission, to discuss how best to mobilise further support for the region, and to encourage additional financial aid towards the relief efforts from EU member states.

The EU has already donated over €65 million in emergency aid to Bosnia and Serbia. €3 million was sent directly to those worst affected people needing immediate food, medicine, clean water, first aid, and shelter. These funds will be channelled through the Red Cross/Red Crescent and other partner organisations who know how to operate effectively and compassionately on the ground to assist those most in need.

Within weeks of the disaster, most EU member states offered to help out through the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism. This uninspiring moniker fails to capture fully what is essentially an excellent coordinating service for participating countries to help each other out during an emergency. 22 EU countries contributed skills, manpower and in-kind support and sent more than 600 specialists to Bosnia and Serbia. The different teams brought with them motorised boats, helicopters, pumping equipment, water purification tablets and plenty of other humanitarian staples.

Now the focus will begin to turn to reconstruction efforts. This is where the Commission’s additional €62 million comes in, to be channelled through trusted partners who know how to create economies of scale, speed and efficiency.

These recent efforts constituted the largest European civil protection intervention in Europe ever. Along with an ongoing determination to help Bosnia and Serbia recover, we can see exactly what the EU can achieve when its members work together. You don’t need a history lesson to understand that the EU and the rest of the world have a vested interest in helping to keep these two neighbours – one of whom is an EU candidate country – safe, secure and socially integrated.

And yet, there are those who believe that the EU shouldn’t be reaching out a helping hand at all.

This is wrong. Collective action matters because climate change, population growth and dwindling natural resources mean we will see far more flooding and food insecurity in years to come. This isn’t just a developing world problem – it’s a European one too. Pulling up the drawbridge and retreating from scary problems won’t keep them at bay, because natural disasters don’t care about politics or borders. The needy and vulnerable will be forced to resort to even more desperate measures; while the populations of richer countries will not escape the effects either.  

Arguing for European unity during a time of resurgent nationalism may be unfashionable. But it’s hubris to think individual countries can go it alone. The EU is not just a talking shop to promote exports and jobs – and more than just the market matters to Europeans. David Cameron advocates “nation states where possible, Europe only where necessary”. But we need to think hard about what our definition of necessary means when it comes to the EU. From my perspective, our common humanity makes it necessary for us to work together and help each other out.

History has taught us that much at least.

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