NGOs and EU Aid Policy

Within the humanitarian system, the EU has developed its peculiar role based on a dominantly civilian approach to conflicts, as well as a set of structured policies towards natural emergency and crisis response. They are part of an overall humanitarian framework, which is subject to different preferences, common problems and needs, and deals with the increasing complexity of the crises which the EU is expected to contribute to tackling (Attina 2012). Since the crisis concept is more broadly defined, more recent debate has been enriched with contributions from different backgrounds and expertise, also involving practitioners and experts (Boin et al. 2013; Attina et al. 2014).

In the field of security and humanitarian intervention, the EU considerably increased its support to NGOs, especially during the 1980s and 1990s. It started to provide foreign assistance through funding to NGOs in the mid-1970s with a small co-financing programme. The work done by the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO) and most of the refugee work undertaken by other Directorate-Generals was essentially implemented by NGOs (Reinmann 2006). The dialogue between the Commission and the NGOs, in particular, contributed to the development of some conflict prevention norms and schemes that explicitly strengthened the relationships between the structural causes of instability and violence and the need to link aid and foreign policy.

The relationship between NGOs and the EU Commission has been significantly shaped and strengthened through the aid policy and humanitarian assistance in developing countries, especially on the African continent. By participating in official programs, European NGOs have promoted many humanitarian aid initiatives, especially in Africa (Ryelandt 1995). The pressure exerted by NGOs working in cooperation has helped make the EU strengthen humanitarian aid, pushing to develop specific policies and programs, and creating an important standard of consultation.

Direct funding of NGOs’ initiatives and projects intended to be promoted and implemented in communities in need has, therefore, become the privileged method for driving the competencies and knowledge with which non-state actors are provided from the top. The European Commission established ECHO in 1992 to handle the evolution of the EU’s relief operations. In 2004, it was upgraded to Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid, with an annual budget of over €500 million, and it was fortified with the inclusion of specific responsibilities in the field of civil protection services in 2010. Firstly, ECHO is expected to monitor the application and respect of universally accepted humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality, and independence in the deployment of any EU intervention. Secondly, it has to manage a wide range of practical tasks, that is to say, mobilization of the resources on the scale required to deliver emergency relief supplies, provision of rescue teams, setting up of emergency measures, and installation of temporary communications systems. The delivery of emergency supplies requires not only the selection of partners able rapidly to provide logistics and skill, but also huge coordination efforts to bring together very different actors, including NGOs, the ICRC and UN agencies (Irrera 2013).

Since its creation in 1992, ECHO has always worked on the basis of the Framework Partnership Agreements (FPA) as the instrument which sets the principles of partnership between ECHO and humanitarian organizations, defines the respective roles, rights, and obligations of partners, and contains the legal provisions applicable to humanitarian operations. Agreements are entered into both with NGOs and with international organizations that have a humanitarian mission, including UN agencies to which the FAFA (EC/UN Financial Administrative Framework Agreement) is applied. The first ECHO FPA was adopted in 1993, the second in 1998, the third in 2003.

About half of the EU’s relief aid has been channelled through ECHO to NGOs, together with UN agencies and other organizations like the ICRC and national Red Cross and Red Crescent Society.

As obtaining EU funds is important to NGOs’ work in the field, the roles that civil society can fulfil are strongly asserted and often claimed both by member states and by EU institutions. Roles played by NGOs can often serve as a bridge between EU interventions and local communities, especially in countries with low levels of trust in national authorities. Cooperation with civil society can provide an important mechanism for increasing public trust and even legitimating any EU external interventions and, as a consequence, for enhancing their effectiveness. Thus, in the recent years, NGOs have gradually but irrevocably climbed to a privileged position in the ECHO agenda.

ECHO constitutes one of the most useful instruments for NGOs within EU humanitarian aid policy. The new mechanism created in 2004 was also the channel through which the long and established experience already collected by NGOs in developing countries was conveyed.

Therefore, in order to measure trends and perspectives in the NGOs’ action within EU humanitarian aid policy, the analysis given here makes use of more recent data contained in EDRIS (European Disaster Response Information System) datasets and differentiated by region.

EDRIS contains real-time information on contributions to humanitarian aid by the European Commission’ Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection and the EU Member State. Its core objective is to capture all humanitarian aid contributions, according to the definitions provided by the Council Regulation (EC) no. 1257/96. Humanitarian aid is here intended as a comprehensive concept which ‘shall comprise assistance, relief and protection, operations on a non-discriminatory basis to help people in third countries, particularly the most vulnerable among them, and as a priority those in developing countries, victims of natural disasters, man-made crises, such as wars and outbreaks of fighting, or exceptional situations or circumstances comparable to natural or manmade disasters’ (EU Council 1996, p. 2).

Thus, EDRIS offers a comprehensive set of data and information related to aid provided by EU member states and ECHO to a wide range of crisis and countries. Analysis of such data allow the investigation of traditional practices, as well as highlighting new trends in humanitarian aid.

In this chapter, analysis is made on aggregate data, i.e. at the level of international regions, and focuses on the funding (in Euros) of projects by ECHO and EU member states that are implemented in the field by NGOs. It aims to understand first whether there is a difference between the support provided by ECHO and that given by states; secondly, which member states are more active in humanitarian aid implemented in the field by NGOs; thirdly, whether the recipient regions confirm traditional trends in EU policy or not.

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