European Scrutiny Committee Contents


10 The European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps

(34256)

14150/12 + ADDs 1-2

COM(12) 514

Draft Council Regulation establishing the European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps

Legal baseArticle 214 (5) TFEU; ordinary legislative procedure; QMV
DepartmentInternational Development
Basis of considerationMinister's letter of 29 November 2012
Previous Committee ReportHC 86-xviii (2012-13), chapter 6 (31 October 2012); also see (32292) 17065/10: HC 428-xii (2010-11), chapter 12 (12 January 2011)
Discussion in CouncilTo be determined
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared; further information requested

Background

10.1 Since 1992, EU humanitarian aid has been managed by the Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, which was more commonly known as DG ECHO. The EU (Commission plus the Member States) is one of the world's biggest providers of humanitarian aid funding. Since 1992, operations directed by ECHO have channelled aid to regions in crisis in more than 85 countries.[55]

10.2 Article 214 TFEU introduced, for the first time, humanitarian aid as a policy in its own right in the EC Treaty. As defined in Article 214 TFEU, the EU's operations in the field of humanitarian aid are intended to provide ad hoc assistance and relief for people in third countries who are victims of natural or man-made disasters, in order to meet the humanitarian needs resulting from these different situations; EU and Member States measures "shall complement and reinforce each other".

10.3 Article 214 TFEU reiterates the principles of humanitarian aid, these being compliance with the principles of international law and the principles of impartiality, neutrality and non-discrimination. EU humanitarian aid operations must be coordinated and consistent with those of international organisations and bodies, in particular those forming part of the United Nations system.

10.4 Article 214 (5) TFEU refers specifically to a "European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps" (EVHAC), whose objective is "to establish a framework for joint contributions from young Europeans to the humanitarian aid operations of the Union" (Article 214(5) TFEU). The European Parliament and the Council, acting by means of regulations in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure, shall determine the rules and procedures for the operation of the Corps.

The draft Council Regulation

10.5 We considered this draft Council Regulation at our meeting on 31 October. It takes forward Commission Communication 17065/10, "How to express EU citizen's solidarity through volunteering: First Reflections on a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps"; this sets out the DG ECHO and Member States' consultation and discussion in Council working groups, with the aim of tabling legislative proposals to Council and to the European Parliament in 2012, along with the guiding principles, gaps in the current system and key conditions under which EVHAC must operate (details in paragraphs 6.05-6.19 of our previous Report).[56]

10.6 The May 2011 EcoFin Council discussed and welcomed this Communication in its conclusions, "but underlined that such a corps should be cost-effective, should build upon existing national and international voluntary schemes without duplicating them, and be focused on addressing concrete needs and gaps in the humanitarian field."

10.7 In the specific Conclusions on EVHAC, the Council:

—  recognised the importance of increasing the professionalism of humanitarian aid actors and the need to address their safety and security, in particular in complex emergencies;

—  emphasised the need to set clear requirements for the identification, selection, training and deployment of volunteers;

—  acknowledged the need to support local capacities in disaster prevention, preparedness, humanitarian response and post-disaster settings;

—  underlined that EVHAC should not encroach upon the Commission's existing humanitarian aid and civil protection budget and that it should be based on a thorough cost-benefit analysis;

—  underlined that EVHAC should be cost-effective, build upon existing national and international voluntary schemes without duplicating them and, as part of a global approach, be focused on addressing concrete needs and gaps in the humanitarian field;

—  underlined that EVHAC can make a useful contribution to the European and international humanitarian assistance by focusing its activities on supporting existing local humanitarian and civil protection organisations, in cooperation with recipient authorities;

—  underlined that EVHAC should not be set up as an operational humanitarian or civil protection organisation in its own right;

—  emphasised the need for EVHAC to provide added value to the EU humanitarian assistance and its beneficiaries, especially in pre- and post-crisis contexts, as well as to increase awareness raising and visibility of EU assistance;

—  said that, alongside the results of the preparatory action, the Impact Assessment, and the on-going consultations, its Conclusions should guide the Commission in the assessment of the different options with regard to the framework and management structure of EVHAC.[57]

10.8 A June 2011 European Parliament Declaration was enthusiastic but lacked any of these qualifications (see paragraphs 6.18 and 6.19 of our previous Report).

10.9 The Library of the European Parliament also says:

"On the other hand, from the Eurosceptic side, there is opposition to setting up EVHAC on the basis that it will duplicate the work of existing agencies. In this view, humanitarian aid should be left to trained professionals and must be provided by non-governmental organisations and the United Nations."[58]

10.10 The subsequent EU Aid Volunteers initiative is based on a widespread consultation around six identified problems: lack of a structured EU approach towards volunteering; poor visibility of EU humanitarian action and solidarity with people in need; lack of consistent identification and selection mechanisms across Member States; insufficient availability of qualified volunteers for humanitarian aid; shortcomings in the surge capacity of humanitarian aid; and weak capacity of organisations receiving volunteers.

10.11 Under its proposal, the Commission would develop standards for the recruitment and preparation of volunteers, their deployment and their management, including duty of care and minimum requirements on subsistence and accommodation. Organisations that would like to select, prepare and deploy EU Aid Volunteers would have to be certified for compliance with these standards. Organisations awarded contracts in response to Commission calls for proposals would identify and select volunteers for training after an assessment of the needs in third countries. A Register of EU Aid Volunteers would be managed by the Commission. A certification mechanism would also be established for organisations eligible to receive volunteers. The Commission would support capacity building actions of receiving organisations to ensure effective management of the volunteers and sustainable impact of their work. The Commission would promote the EU Aid Volunteers initiative and develop a communication action plan, which would be implemented by all sending and receiving organisations. The proposed budget is €239.1 million over the period 2014-20.[59]

10.12 The Minister (Lynne Featherstone) said that the UK had provided input through discussions at COHAFA (the relevant Council working party), as well as the 25 May 2011 Council Conclusions. She was concerned that the current proposal was not yet informed by the results of the pilots launched to guide the eventual shape of the fully-fledged initiative. Her starting point for negotiations would be to consider whether the volunteering programme would be the most cost-effective way of addressing the problems that had been identified, and to limit the number and scope of the initiative's activities to those where needs were clear and pilot programmes had been evaluated and given a positive assessment. The Minister said that she would press for lessons learned in the pilot projects to be taken into account in the elaboration of the initiative's recruitment, training and deployment activities; and "as a minimum" want any EU Aid Volunteers initiative to: respond to identified need and be complementary to existing initiatives in this field within the international system; offer value for money; have objectives grounded in humanitarian principles, including a focus on robust outcome measures such as lives saved; provide for sufficient Duty of Care for those deployed; and undergo thorough independent evaluation prior to any decision on any continuation of the initiative.

10.13 On the question of Subsidiarity, the Minister said:

"The establishment of the European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps is specifically provided for under Article 214(5) TFEU. However, the UK will wish to study carefully the proposed objectives and planned activities and consider where the EU will bring added value."

10.14 The Minister also commented as follows:

"The precise scope of activities of EU Aid Volunteers will depend on the separate budget negotiations, but the proposed activities are in line with humanitarian aid principles and the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid. The initiative will complement and support activities already carried out across the EU by individual Member States and humanitarian aid organisations in various forms.

"The UK has provided input through discussions at COHAFA, as well as the 25 May 2011 Council Conclusions. [60]

Our assessment

10.15 There is no doubt about the legal base in the Treaties for this initiative, or about the need for some sort of arrangements to improve the present situation. But it seemed extraordinary that a €239 million initiative was not yet informed by the results of the pilots launched to guide its eventual shape; and thus impossible at that juncture to come to any conclusion other than that it appears to have been pushed through to meet an artificial 2012 deadline.

10.16 We also found it odd that, with the COHAFA negotiations already under way, the Minister said that UK policy objectives were still being finalised. We therefore asked her to write to us when they had been finalised:

—  setting out what they are, and explaining how she is planning to achieve her "minimum" and ensure that there are provisions for the initiative to be evaluated and time-limited;

—  providing information about the pilot projects in question, what the results were and what the implications were for the initiative; and

—  providing information about what had transpired by then in the negotiations.

10.17 In the meantime we continued to retain the document under scrutiny.[61]

The Minister's letter of 29 November

10.18 The Minister responds as follows on UK policy objectives:

"The UK policy objectives in the negotiations in the Council are to ensure that the initiative is evaluated and is time-limited. The Committee asked what our "Minimum" is and if it were achievable. The UK aims to achieve the following:

  • "limit the initiative's scope and activities to those for which the Commission can demonstrate a need and evidence base from the Pilot Projects;
  • "ensure the initiative offers value for money, safety and security for the volunteers and is grounded in agreed humanitarian principles;
  • "link the continuation of the initiative to independent evaluation; and
  • "only grant the power to make delegated/implementing acts where the Commission can demonstrate that this would be the most effective course of action for the initiative.

"The UK is working to deliver its objectives through engagement with like minded Member States and active participation in negotiations in the Council Working Group on Humanitarian Aid (COHAFA), leading to amendments to the proposal that satisfy these objectives. The UK will push for strong language on independent evaluation of the initiative, and for a time-limit to the current initiative. The UK has informed its position through consultation with several UK and European NGOs."

10.19 With regard to the pilot projects, the Minister says:

"There are two waves of pilot projects which are being funded in advance of the fully fledged initiative. The majority of first wave projects have been completed, and the second wave will run on into 2013. The pilots have tested out different approaches to deploying volunteers with different levels of prior experience to support humanitarian activities. The primary focus has been on supporting disaster preparedness and capacity building, rather than emergency response. Many NGOs and national Red Cross Societies have participated, including three from the UK (Save the Children, Voluntary Services Overseas and the British Red Cross).

"In response to a push from the UK and other Member States for further evidence from the Pilot Projects, the Commission has since produced and shared fact sheets on eight Pilot Projects. The Commission will hold a further session on pilots during the 11 December COHAFA meeting."

10.20 Concerning what has transpired in the negotiations, the Minister says:

"The negotiations on this proposal are continuing. There has been one discussion in COHAFA on the substance of the proposal covering the first two Chapters. After the next COHAFA discussion on 28 November, the Presidency will circulate a revised version of the proposal taking into account Member State comments. COHAFA will then consider the revised version of the proposal."

10.21 With regard to the financial implications, the Minister says:

"The proposed scope of the EU Aid Volunteers initiative will be affected by the outcome of the current negotiations on the EU Multiannual Financial Framework for 2014-20. This will not be finalised before spring 2013 at the earliest, but it is likely that the financial level of the External Actions part of the EU Budget, which will fund the EU Aid Volunteers, will be significantly reduced from the Commission's current proposal."

10.22 Finally, with reference to the European Parliament, the Minister says:

"The European Parliament's Development Committee has appointed Michèle Striffler MEP (French European People's Party) as rapporteur for the proposal. The Committee has held one discussion to date."

Conclusion

10.23 We thank the Minister for this further information, which demonstrates how far there is still to go in demonstrating that this initiative is justified and, if so, is properly set up.

10.24 In the first instance, we would be grateful if, after the next COHAFA meeting, she would let us know:

—   what the Pilot Projects have shown thus far concerning:

  • a demonstrable need that is not being met already, especially by experienced NGOs, and which would be met by volunteers;
  • what issues have been identified concerning the safety and security of prospective volunteers;
  • how the initiative would offer value for money;

—  how the initiative has been revised via the Presidency proposal to which she refers.

10.25 In the meantime we shall continue to retain the document under scrutiny.

10.26 We are also drawing this chapter of our Report to the attention of the International Development Committee.



55   See http://ec.europa.eu/echo/index_en.htm for full information on DG ECHO. Back

56   Also see (32292) 17065/10: HC 428-xii (2010-11), chapter 12 (12 January 2011). Back

57   The full Council Conclusions on EVHAC are available at http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/122055.pdf. Back

58   See http://libraryeuroparl.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/european-voluntary-humanitarian-aid-corps-briefing/. Back

59   See our previous Report for a fuller summary: HC 86-xviii (2012-13), chapter 6 (31 October 2012). Back

60   See paras 6.30 and 6.31 of our previous Report for the Minister's detailed analysis and comments. Back

61   See headnote: HC 86-xviii (2012-13), chapter 6 (31 October 2012). Back


 
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Prepared 13 December 2012