Nowadays is possible to find out that crisis
like natural disasters and conflicts are increasingly both around the world and
at the same moment; these
jeopardize human lives through injuries, beatings, forced
displacement and loss of human life.

As shown in this article the European Union (EU), because of the fundamental principles on which it is based, plays an important role in supporting people in danger; this activity takes places in every part of the world and within a short time, thanks to a strong organization.

First of all, we will examine what is humanitarian aid; secondly, we
will analyze the different European institutions involved in this framework;
thereafter, a case study will explain in detail how
humanitarian action is actually carried out by the European Union; lastly, we
will see the limits of these operations.

1. Humanitarian aid

Humanitarian aid is a
fundamental expression of the universal value of solidarity between peoples and
a moral imperative; the EU, thanks to a budget that is over €1 billion, is the
world’s leading humanitarian aid donor; it performs this activity through
financing, provision of goods or services or technical assistance, aimed at urgently
deal with crises that could seriously affect populations around the world[1].

This activity is
realized in the framework of both the Article 21 of the â€śTreaty on
European Union”, that sets out the principles for all EU external action, covering
humanitarian action and the Article 214 of the â€śTreaty on the
Functioning of the European Union”, that constitute the legal basis for
humanitarian aid[2].

Furthermore, this
task is provided in the framework of the “European Consensus on Humanitarian
Aid outlines”, a document signed by the Council,
European Parliament and European Commission in 2007; this policy sets
out why, how and when the EU acts, in order to improve coherence,
effectiveness, and quality of the EU’s humanitarian response. In this document,
EU reaffirms its commitment to the
fundamental principles of humanitarian aid[3]:

Humanity: means that human suffering must be addressed wherever it is found, with particular attention to the most vulnerable people, respecting at the same time the dignity of all victims.

Neutrality: means that humanitarian aid must not favor any side in a conflict or in a disaster.

Impartiality: means that humanitarian aid must be provided solely on the basis of need, without discrimination.

Independence means the autonomy of humanitarian objectives from political, economic, military or other objectives.

EU humanitarian
action also express the principle of solidarity, as declared in the Lisbon
Treaty, which indicates that the EU furnish assistance, relief and protection
for victims of natural and man-made disasters, strengthening at the same time
cooperation between Member States to this purpose.

2. The role of the EU institutions


defines the position of the EU towards foreign regions and countries,
encouraging the parties involved in resolving the conflicts and in urging respect
for international humanitarian law; it should be noted that it doesn’t determine
on operational matters such the funds management[4];

The Council has
played an important role in the humanitarian aid framework adopting in 1996 the
regulation establishing the” EU Humanitarian Aid Instrument”, which sets out
the modalities for the implementation of humanitarian operations by the
European Commission on behalf of the EU; precisely, the working party on
“Humanitarian Aid and Food Aid[5]”
(COHAFA) is the competent body for
dealing with matters relating to humanitarian assistance, such as:

– monitoring of humanitarian needs worldwide and the collective response of the EU (Member States plus European Commission)

– the efficiency of the global humanitarian system

– the preparation of EU statements before relevant international forum and organizations

– the promotion of the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid, humanitarian principles and respect for international humanitarian law[6]

relation to the latter point, it is worth recalling that the European Consensus
on Humanitarian Aid outlines the policy framework for the EU when acting in
response to humanitarian crises; specifically, the Consensus sets out why, how
and when the EU acts.

It was
signed by the Council, European Parliament and European Commission in 2007 in
order to improve the coherence, the effectiveness, and the quality of the EU’s
humanitarian response.

life, prevent and alleviate suffering as well as help to maintain human dignity
in the face of natural and man-made disasters are the overriding objectives of
humanitarian action.

it formulates the common positions of the EU and its Member States at
international events, such as the “First World Humanitarian Summit[7]” in 2016.

summit took place in Istanbul on 23-24 May 2016; It reunite 9,000 participants speaking
for 180 States, including 55 Heads of State and Government, hundreds of civil
society and non-governmental organizations, and partners both from the private
sector and academia.

It had several goals:

– To reinforce a commitment to
humanity and to the universality of humanitarian principles.

– To set up a set of precise
actions and commitments aimed at allowing countries and communities to better
prepare for and respond to crises, enhancing their resilience at the same

– To share best practices for alleviating suffering and save lives around the world.

event generated over 3,000 commitments to action and over 2,500 alignments with
the core commitments to deliver the Agenda for Humanity. Furthermore, more than
20 initiatives were either launched or reinforced, aimed at improving the lives
of people affected by humanitarian crises.

European Commission

The Directorate-General
for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO) is the directorate-general
of the European Commission which deals with safeguard lives, prevent and
alleviate human suffering affected by natural disasters and man-made crises[8].

It’s constituted by a
main office in Brussels and by different field
offices, whom provide up-to-date analysis of existing and forecasted needs in a
given region or country, contributing to the development of policy development
and provide technical support to DG ECHO funded operations, ensuring so an
adequate monitoring of these interventions.

case of humanitarian interventions, DG ECHO do not implement assistance programs
itself but it operates funding different partners, like NGOsUN agencies,
and international organizations; lastly, it’s also in charge of the EU Civil
Protection Mechanism, who fosters cooperation among national civil protection
authorities across Europe.

Courtesy of the European Commission

Emergency Response Coordination Centre

This center is part
of the EU Civil protection mechanism and coordinates the assistance to
countries hit by disasters providing relief items, civil protection teams,
specialized equipment and expertise; it coordinates all EU Member States, the
affected country and civil protection and humanitarian experts; it operates
24/7, helping any country inside or outside the EU upon request from an United Nations
body or from the national authorities[9].


For cases of last
resort (when Member States’ capacities are
already fully used) it was developed RescEu, an instrument that act both
in strengthening European response in terms of additional reserve of capacities,
co-financing and improving disaster prevention and preparedness both at
national and European level[10].

EU aid volunteer

In this framework EU
resorts also to volunteer, through the
“EU aid volunteers” program, which offers opportunities
for European citizens in humanitarian projects worldwide, educating these
to operate in regions affected by disasters; it promotes also capacity building
for local staff and provide technical assistance for organizations based
in Europe[11].

3. A case study of EU humanitarian intervention: Bangladesh

Courtesy of the United Kingdom Government

A brief introduction of the country

a long time, Bangladesh has offered a safe place for Rohingya refugees fleeing
Myanmar; however; nonetheless, following widespread military repression in
Myanmar in August 2017, a massive arrival of Rohingya refugees in search of
protection and assistance has exacerbated the humanitarian situation in this

Indeed, this influx of more than 745,000
Rohingya refugees has put a
tremendous pressure on previous
existing humanitarian services in the district of Cox’s Bazar; the vast
majority has not been recognized a refugee status, thus they are referred as
“undocumented Myanmar nationals” by the government of Bangladesh.

Because of the lack of a legal status, they are
unable to attend education or any form of legal employment and remain
vulnerable to exploitation and serious protection risks. More than an estimated
910,000 unregistered Rohingya currently live in Bangladesh, depending fully on

Furthermore, the country is also one of the most
susceptible to disaster in the world; indeed, being
localized in the confluence of two large rivers (the Ganges and the
Brahmaputra) the country is exposed to many different natural hazards including
cyclones, floods and earthquakes; moreover, is one of the most susceptible
countries to the effects of climate change.

EU Intervention

Considering 2019, the European Union has given
€24.8 million in humanitarian aid, divided in:

– €19 million for humanitarian food relief, clean water and sanitation infrastructures, access to healthcare services and increased security for the most defenseless groups.

– €5 million will scale up preparedness measures for natural hazards especially during the rainy season, which could trigger floods, landslides, cyclones and tidal surges in what is currently the most densely populated refugee camp in the world. Furthermore, the funding will also strengthen the preparedness for future earthquakes in urban areas in the congested capital of Dhaka and early action in flood prone areas of Bangladesh. In response to the devastating flooding caused by a series of monsoon rains that have hit Bangladesh since early July,

– €800,000 has been allocated to provide essential support to the most affected families[12].


As we have seen the European Unions is possibly one of the major players in humanitarian aid worldwide; nonetheless it happens sometimes that no rescue is provided, mainly because of a lack of agreement between the various member states, as evidenced by the Libyan case of which it is worthwhile to give a brief overview: after the riots that led to the death of Mu’ammar Gheddafi in 2011 the EU approach remains basically the same since 2014 and it consists of a constatation of the security crisis, in which the European Council stated that ““there is no solution to the Libyan crisis through the use of force”, revitalizing support to the institutions built by Libyan Political Agreement (i.e., Presidency Council and Government of National Accord led by Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj).

It was later observed
that EU focused more on short-term objectives over a general strategic goal, in
order to achieve quick-fix solutions and give prompt answers to the anxieties
of the European citizens, who purportedly perceive increasing migrant flows
from Libya as a huge threat[13].

Analyzing the Libyan situation is easy to find out that these actions have led to a vague and inconclusive intervention, which has failed either to stabilize Libya or to prevent the numerous deaths of migrants and refugees at sea in the Mediterranean Sea.

Nicola Bianco





[5] It was set up in 2008
following the signing of the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid:









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