Documents considered by the Committee on 23 October 2013 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

9 The European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps



+ ADDs 1-2

COM(12) 514

Draft Council Regulation establishing the European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps

Legal baseArticle 214 (5) TFEU; Co-decision; QMV
DepartmentDepartment for International Development
Basis of considerationMinister's letter of 11 October 2013
Previous Committee ReportsHC 83-iv (2013-14), chapter 6 (5 June 2013); HC 86-xxxi (2012-13), chapter 2 (6 February 2013); HC 86-xxii (2012-13), chapter 10 (5 December 2012) and HC 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


9.1 The Committee's extensive consideration of this proposal thus far is set out in the previous Reports cited above. A summary is set out below.

9.2 Article 214(5) TFEU sets out a commitment to create a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps (EVHAC), "to establish a framework for joint contributions from young Europeans to the humanitarian aid operations of the Union". The May 2011 ECOFIN Council welcomed the proposal, "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." A European Parliament Declaration was enthusiastic but lacked any of these qualifications.

9.3 The 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;

·  shortcomings in the "surge capacity" of humanitarian aid; and

·  weak capacity of organisations receiving volunteers.

9.4 The Commission would develop standards for recruitment, preparation, deployment and management of volunteers, including duty of care and minimum requirements on subsistence and accommodation. Organisations that would like to select, prepare and deploy them would have to be certified for compliance with these standards. The Commission would manage a Register of EU Aid Volunteers. A certification mechanism would also be established for organisations eligible to receive volunteers, who could be helped to build capacity to ensure effective management of the volunteers and sustainable impact of their work. The proposed 2014-2020 budget is €239.1 million.

9.5 In her first update last December, the Minister (Lynne Featherstone) was concerned that the current proposal was not yet informed by the results of the pilots launched to guide its eventual shape. She set out her approach clearly:

·  determine whether the volunteering programme would be the most cost-effective way of addressing the problems that had been identified;

·  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;

·  ensure "as a minimum" that any EU Aid Volunteers initiative not only responded to identified need but was complementary to existing initiatives in this field within the international system;

·  offered value for money;

·  had objectives grounded in humanitarian principles, including a focus on robust outcome measures such as lives saved;

·  provided for sufficient Duty of Care for those deployed; and

·  was time-limited and independently evaluated before any continuation.

9.6 Even after providing a further update in February, on what the pilot projects had shown thus far, the Minister continued "to have reservations about the initiative as proposed, including the overall need for it, its scale/budget and its fit with similar projects."

9.7 In her further update of 7 May 2013, the Minister reported that:

·  the European Parliament's Development Committee voted on its amendments to the proposal on 23 April;

·  Member States met at the end of April to discuss the Irish Presidency's revised proposal;

·  a further Presidency revision would go to the relevant working group on 15 May;

·  the Presidency was hoping to take the proposal to COREPER before the end of June; and

·  trilogue would begin following agreement of the Council negotiating position.

Our assessment

9.8 As recently as February, the Minister continued to doubt the overall need for this proposal and yet the proposal was plainly at the point of entering the final stage of the legislative process. However, it was by no means clear from the information provided what had changed in order to overcome her reservations.

9.9 We therefore asked the Minister to deposit the revised proposal forthwith and, in her Explanatory Memorandum, as well as dealing with the reservations outlined in February — the overall need for it, its scale/budget and its fit with similar projects — explain in detail how it satisfied the elements of the approach she set out at the beginning (see paragraph 9.5)

9.10 In the meantime, we retained the proposal under scrutiny.[52]

9.11 We also again drew this chapter of our Report to the attention of the International Development Committee.

The Minister's letter of 11 October 2013

9.12 The Minister responds as follows:

"In trying to improve the current proposal for establishing the EVHAC, the UK and other Member States have negotiated hard-won, practical, worthwhile improvements in the EU Council Working Party on Humanitarian Aid and Food Aid (COHAFA) which I've summarised below. In addition, initial feedback from the volunteers during the pilot phase has been positive and shows that the improvements detailed below have been taken into account by the Commission.

·  "Value for money: We have secured a 40 per cent reduction to the Commission's original estimate, from €239 million (£205 million) to €147.9 million (£126.7 million).

·  "Consultation with Member States: Member States will continue to be able to exercise some control through the detailed discussion of the certification mechanism, training programme, monitoring framework and annual work programmes.

·  ""Needs-Based": The Regulation was originally framed as a flag for Europe and a feel-good activity for young Europeans. Negotiations in COHAFA have removed this from the Regulation, focussing it on meeting real humanitarian needs in stricken countries. Following the initial pilot phase, the work will be focused on where volunteers can add the greatest value. The reduced budget has also put pressure on the Commission to prioritise rigorously. One suggestion has been that the scheme could focus on building disaster resilience and preparedness, which is in line with UK policy priorities.

·  "Complementarity, Principles and Standards: There is now strong and explicit recognition of the need to complement and co-ordinate with established international mechanisms, especially the UN system under the overall co-ordination of UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). EVHAC will adopt well established international humanitarian technical standards and there is explicit language placing EVHAC within the agreed EU umbrella 'European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid'.

·  "Differentiation of Volunteers: The scheme will now be open to volunteers of all ages. There is a sensible distinction in the management and deployment of volunteers with differing degrees of experience, especially with regard to more dangerous settings. Volunteers will not be deployed to conflict zones at all. Following the 'Back to Base' conference of 16 September in Brussels, where Member States met volunteers from the pilot phase, COHAFA representatives remarked that the individuals that had been selected were highly qualified and motivated.

·  "Security: We strongly pushed for a strengthening of security provisions, including stronger obligations to keep consular authorities of volunteers' home countries informed. The Commission has accepted that it is obliged to ensure Duty of Care for all volunteers, and to manage this rigorously through professionally organised security systems on the ground. Further work is currently being done on this following feedback from the pilot phase. Member States and the Commission are in agreement about the necessity of getting security right.

·  "Evaluation and Monitoring: We successfully argued for earlier and more frequent formal evaluation of the EVHAC than originally proposed. UK officials have obtained a firm commitment in the Regulation that monitoring and evaluation will be robust, independent and focused on humanitarian outcomes and impact. The monitoring framework is likely to be discussed in COHAFA over the next couple of months. UK officials and those of other like-minded Member States will ensure it is sufficiently robust."

9.13 With regard to the next steps, the Minister says:

"the European Presidency has circulated a document showing the original Commission proposals alongside current Council text, as a basis for 'trilogue' discussion with the European Parliament. The first political trilogue meeting was held on 4 September and compromise language has since been discussed in COHAFA. Although the European Parliament is seeking some amendments to the text, these do not, in our opinion, threaten the hard won improvements of the UK and other Member States. The second political trilogue meeting will take place this month and any further changes to the text will be agreed in COHAFA. Consensus amongst Member States remains strong and UK officials will continue to scrutinise any proposed amendments to the text. The current text is likely to be the best we can reasonably secure."


9.14 We ask the Minister to explain why she has not responded appropriately to the Committee's earlier request (c.f. paragraph 9.9 above).

9.15 We also ask the Minister to deposit the amended text to which she refers in her letter. In so doing, we ask her to provide in her Explanatory Memorandum a clear exposition of:

·  the differences between the two texts;

·  the ways in which the current text meets the tests that the Minister set herself (c.f. paragraph 9.9 above);

·  to the extent that it does not, an explanation as to why she is nonetheless prepared to endorse what she now says is "likely to be the best we can reasonably secure".

9.16 In the meantime, we shall continue to retain the original document under scrutiny.

9.17 We are also again drawing this latest update to the attention of the International Development Committee.

52   See headnote: HC 83-iv (2013-14), chapter 6 (5 June 2013). Back

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Prepared 30 October 2013