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date: 10 April 2021

Humanitarian Aid and the European Unionlocked

  • Francesca PusterlaFrancesca PusterlaDepartment of Development Studies, SOAS University of London
  •  and Elia PusterlaElia PusterlaEuropean Institute, The London School of Economics and Political Science

Summary

The European Union Humanitarian Aid Policy (EUHAP) operates through the European Commission’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations Department (DG ECHO) in international humanitarian crises to help victims of man-made atrocities and natural catastrophes worldwide. EUHAP is a subject of vibrant debates given its sensitive scope of intervention and institutional uniqueness. This results, first, in discussions of the reason and legitimacy of humanitarian aid as well as the goals and impact on domestic politics of both donors and recipients. Second, EUHAP is institutionally provided with parallel competences that allow simultaneous and autonomous interventions of the European Union and Member States in humanitarian crises. This means that the EU and Member States can formally carry out independent humanitarian aid without obligation to coordinate. This makes EUHAP particularly relevant regarding the role of the EU as a humanitarian aid provider, the relations between the EU and Member States, the policy governance, and the policy implementation principles.

First, coordination and cooperation between the EU and Member States are de facto essential, given the collective nature and global effects of humanitarian crises. Shared competence regulation through EUHAP may enhance the effectiveness of joint operations, overcome inefficient division of labor, and avoid divergence between intervention expected outcome and real performance.

Second, parallel competences give to the EU the formal competence to carry out humanitarian actions and conduct a common policy, while Member States’ autonomous actions are not prevented. Indeed, despite the undeniable benefits of multilateral intervention, Member States may opt for bilateralism due to concerns for domestic autonomy and sovereignty breaches. Such collective action problems risk affecting policy coherence and effectiveness.

Third, policy governance can make the difference in an effective and coherent EUHAP. This depends on the successful coordination of involved actors to avoid overlapping interventions, dispersion of resources, and particular political, economic, and bureaucratic interests to prevail. In so doing, Member States access the benefits of centralized coordination, monitoring, and division of labor and also avoid autonomy and sovereignty breaches.

Fourth, the application of a costs/benefits rationale to common humanitarian interventions is not per se sufficient to ground and overcome the drawbacks of collective action and explain EUHAP. As per its Treaties, or in line with international humanitarian law, the EU adopts and pursues a humanitarian aid policy based on shared principles of solidarity, humanity, impartiality, independence, and neutrality.

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