Speech by Rolandas Kriščiūnas, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, at the European Parliament, Development Committee

09 July 2013, Last updated at, 13:54 EEST
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Rolandas Kriščiūnas | author: BFL

Madame la Présidente, Honourable Members, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear colleagues,

It is a great honor for me to appear before you today, in my new capacity as a President-in-office of the Council of the European Union.

I am delighted to have this opportunity to share with you the Lithuanian Presidency’s priorities for the next six months under our planned work programme for humanitarian affairs.

I would like to assure you that my colleagues and I are strongly committed to working closely with you in the European Parliament on this agenda. We look forward to deepening the productive working relationship that exists between the Parliament, Council, and the Commission in this vital aspect of the European Union’s external action.

Madame la Présidente, Honourable Members,

The aim of the Union's humanitarian aid is to provide assistance, relief and protection for the victims of natural or man-made disasters in third countries. We are convinced that our humanitarian action must be needs based. It must conform to internationally agreed humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence.

We are proud that today, the European Union as a whole is the world's biggest humanitarian aid donor and a key international actor in providing disaster relief. Taken together, the Union and its Member States represent some 45% of the global funding for humanitarian aid.

Notwithstanding the current economic crisis, this European expression of solidarity with people in need around the world is steadily increasing: a recent Eurobarometer survey suggested that, in 2011, EU humanitarian assistance was supported by 79% of its citizens, while by 2012 that support had increased to 88%.

Whilst recognizing accomplishments, we must always seek to achieve more; to deliver assistance more effectively; to ensure that our assistance is delivered in a targeted and principled manner; and to ensure that we are fully accountable, both to our citizens and to the vulnerable populations we seek to serve.

With those imperatives in mind we were setting the course of the six month of Presidency.

Before introducing Lithuania’s Presidency Work Programme, I would like to congratulate the previous Presidency – Ireland – for its significant achievements. Ireland was the first to implement our jointly prepared Trio programme. Based on solid foundations that our Irish partners have laid Lithuania in close coordination with Greece, will continue to work on current and ongoing dossiers.

In particular, the Lithuanian Presidency will aim to deliver on three main priority action areas:

Firstly, we plan to start and conclude the negotiations between the European Parliament and the Council on the Regulation Establishing a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps;

Secondly, we will seek to generate inclusive discussions on the effectiveness and coherence of EU humanitarian aid;

Thirdly, we will seek to continue EU efforts on building the Resilience agenda.

  • The negotiations on European Aid Volunteers Initiative

Lithuania is expecting to immediately start negotiations between the Council and the European Parliament on the legislative proposal establishing the European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps. We consider this piece of legislation as one of the most important within the sphere of humanitarian aid and, we are fully aware that it is of particular interest to the European Parliament.

I am pleased to note that there is already a considerable common ground between our positions and I can ensure you Council did its utmost to safeguard that the Proposal identifies highest quality EU volunteers, maximizes advantages for beneficiaries on the ground; that is cost-effective and needs-based.

We believe that this initiative will provide an invaluable opportunity for enhanced citizen participation in the overall EU humanitarian effort and we greatly look forward to working with the European Parliament and in particular with you, Madame la Présidente, and your Shadow Rapporteurs in reaching the final agreement.

  • The effectiveness and coherence of EU humanitarian aid

Bearing in mind our responsibility and accountability to our citizens and to those whom we seek to serve, the Lithuanian Presidency as a second priority set the objective to move forward discussions on the effectiveness and coherence of EU humanitarian action.

First of all, the effectiveness means sound coordination and information sharing between various EU actors; operational discussions; interaction with relevant humanitarian actors; and a coordinated response, where appropriate, to other key humanitarian decision-making fora.

The EU guiding document setting out values, guiding principles and policy scope for humanitarian action is the EU Consensus on Humanitarian Aid. In 2008 Commission adopted a five-year Action Plan outlining practical measures to implement the provisions of the Consensus which is expiring this year. An evaluation of the implementation of the Consensus is already launched and the final report is to be expected by January 2014.

The main objective of the evaluation is to deliver an independent assessment on the implementation of the Consensus at the European Union level, and on ways to strengthen EU's capacity to help people suffering in crisis zones across the globe.

In this context, the Lithuanian Presidency considers that this process must be complemented by in depth discussions at the Council level together with the Commission, involving various relevant regional and international stakeholders. Within the Councils Working Party on Humanitarian Aid and Food Aid we will engage in comprehensive discussions on best practices, lessons learned, on how to improve the fulfillment of obligations under the Consensus and on how to strengthen the overall effectiveness of EU humanitarian aid.

Humanitarian needs are dramatically growing, the budgets are shrinking and violation of humanitarian space and non-respect for humanitarian principles constantly challenge international humanitarian action. Therefore we must keep discussions on those and other pressing humanitarian issues high on our internal and international agendas.

The Presidency intends to continue disseminating values of the Consensus within and outside the EU by raising awareness on the importance of humanitarian principles and the underlying rationale for the humanitarian approach.

We invite the European Parliament, as a dedicated advocate for a principled humanitarian action, to actively engage with us in our discussions on evaluating the EU humanitarian assistance and on reflecting the ways forward for our common action in the future.

  • Resilience

And that brings me to our third priority that we have set for our Presidency which is very much related to the effectiveness and coherence of our humanitarian action, which is Resilience.

As it is globally recognized, the chronic nature of poverty and vulnerability, and the increasing frequency and severity of natural and man-made disasters points to the need to ensure a coherent, collaborative approach on the part of both humanitarian and development actors.

It is essential to forge stronger links between the EU’s development and humanitarian policies and programmes. In this area, the Lithuanian Presidency will build upon solid foundations that have been laid by Irish Presidency. In May, the Council adopted Conclusions on the EU Approach to Resilience, which recognized that resilience provides an opportunity to bring together political dialogue as well as humanitarian and development aid to achieve better results on the ground.

Consequently, those Conclusions underlined the need for a Resilience Action Plan, prepared by the Commission this June.

In the implementation phase of the Action Plan the Lithuanian Presidency will facilitate discussions in the framework of the Council Working Party on modalities and ways to effectively implement the Plan and on the lessons emerging from the EU's SHARE and AGIR initiatives.

The Lithuanian Presidency will also provide a forum for regular exchanges on Resilience, by examining the situation in selected countries, and giving Member States the opportunity to coordinate their efforts to strengthen Resilience as part of their humanitarian assistance.

The Lithuanian Presidency welcomes the European Parliament's input to the Resilience agenda, and looks forward to future dialogue on this issue over the next six months.

Madame la Présidente, Honourable Members,

Before concluding, allow me to touch upon current crises.

The first that comes to our minds is of course Syrian crisis. Two years of civil war in Syria has produced a regional humanitarian disaster with a deplorable level of violence and suffering experienced by millions of innocent civilians.

The immediate humanitarian needs are more that we can comprehend. UN revised budget amounts to 1.4 billion US dollars to assist 6.8 million people inside Syria; 1 billion US dollars in unmet requirements until end 2013.

The EU has already allocated over 678 million Euros and, as you know, on 24 of June, the European Parliament, the European Commission, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions through a Joint Communication “Towards a comprehensive EU approach to the Syrian crises” committed to provide additional 400 million Euros.

It is therefore essential that the EU, as a leader within the international community, continues to strive to respond to the overwhelming humanitarian needs of the populations affected by the conflict, whilst working simultaneously to support efforts to find a sustainable political solution.

The Lithuanian Presidency will consistently call upon all parties to abide by International Humanitarian Law, to respect humanitarian principles, to facilitate humanitarian access and aid delivery to the people in need. During our presidency, we will aim to ensure that the EU will continue to address the situation in Syria as matter of priority.

Yet, while attention is rightly placed on Syria, this must not mean that we forget about other places in the world where people die and suffer due to natural disasters, armed conflicts, or both.

The Lithuanian Presidency will hold timely discussions on the most pressing humanitarian and food-security crises - such as those in Mali, in the wider Sahel, Sudan and South Sudan, the DRC, the Central African Republic, Haiti and others. Together with the Member States, we shall also keep high on the Council’s agenda some of the world’s protracted and “forgotten” crises, such as those in Pakistan, Myanmar/Burma and others.

In conclusion, I would like to once again underline the Lithuanian Presidency’s commitment to progressing the humanitarian assistance agenda, and our keen desire to work closely with your Committee to achieve the priorities I have outlined today.

As you may see, the Lithuanian Presidency set an ambitious agenda for six month to come but we also know that six month is not an entire path but just one step on the road that we are all in.

I remain at your disposal for any questions that you may have, and I thank you for your kind attention.

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