Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said yesterday (18 August) that she would strive to make sure that the EU, which is usually the biggest donor in disaster areas, sees its flag fly. She claimed this had not been possible so far because humanitarian organisations responsible for distributing EU aid had insisted on pushing their brand instead.
Asked by EURACTIV why TV reports had shown aid being distributed in Pakistan in sacks carrying the US flag, but never the EU emblem, Georgieva gave several reasons.
First, Europeans tend to be more modest, she said, speaking to the Brussels press. "When we speak about ourselves, we rarely use superlatives. In my country [Bulgaria], when something is really brilliant, we say 'not too bad'. So there is a strong cultural element," she argued.
Secondly, she said, Europe had chosen to work very much with partner organisations present on the ground, as in Pakistan. But these organisations, such as the Red Cross or Save the Children, have their own brand to promote and are reluctant to use the EU's to a certain extent, she added.
Sometimes this is because it may seem like their work is being politicised, sometimes it is purely for safety reasons, and sometimes it is because they want to show off their own brand, which is understandable, the commissioner explained.
We are discussing these issues with them, Georgieva went on, explaining that the point she was making was that Europeans make sacrifices in times of hardship, opening their purses for those in dire need.
"Raising the visibility of Europe and making sure that our flag shines when we are abroad helping people in need is something that I find incredibly important. Especially now, when we are still not through with the economic and financial crises and it is hard for people here, and we also have our own disasters at home," she said.
Georgieva said she was telling humanitarian organisations that they should do more to help the EU to help them by flying the EU flag. She lamented that although the Union is the biggest donor in Pakistan, hit by unprecedented floods, when she read newspapers, nowhere did she see recognition for this fact.
The commissioner added that the visibility issue was one of the important topics of her political proposal to reinforce the EU's capacity to respond to crises (EURACTIV 17/08/10), which she said would be made public late in September. Obviously referring to a recent letter from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, she said she was really encouraged by the will of member states to make a decision this autumn.
Meanwhile, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso has responded to Sarkozy. Barroso's letter covers the different stages of the response to the Pakistan disaster, including calling a donor's conference, as well as including the topic as one of the main issues at the informal meeting of EU foreign ministers on 10 September in Brussels.
Donkeys more important than helicopters
Asked to explain the humanitarian situation on the ground in Pakistan, where the EU has been sending first aid to the tune of 70 million euros – which could appear modest given the size of the tragedy – Georgieva said 70 million was in fact a significant amount, in view of the absorption capacity on the ground.
She explained that the main problem was ensuring that aid actually reaches people in need, and that in some places donkeys were a more precious means of transport than helicopters.
Georgieva praised High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton and Commission President Barroso for contacting member states at the highest political level for additional assistance for Pakistan. Eleven have responded and their additional assistance amounts to another 40 million euros. She cited Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and the UK. In total, the EU had committed 150 million dollars so far, or the third of what the UN had been calling for, she explained.
Georgieva said she would be in Pakistan on Monday, and that she would be helping to prepare the donor conference for Pakistan that the UN has been calling for.