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Kristalina Georgieva: We must not keep our flag in our pocket



(BRUSSELS2) At the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday in Luxembourg, the 27 ministers will find in their voluminous files (between Iran, Gaza and Somalia) a report on feedback from the European intervention on the earthquake in Haiti (article to follow). A report prepared by Catherine Ashton, EU chief diplomat and Kristalina Georgieva, the (Bulgarian) Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response (read: article to come). Ms. Georgieva agreed a few days ago to receive me to detail her
first thoughts on the European intervention in Haiti and its next priorities in terms of civil protection.


• What are the lessons learned :-) that you draw from the European intervention on the earthquake in Haiti?

I see three pillars on which we must build our action: coordination, cohesion and visibility of our actions. On coordination, we respect everyone's role. The coordination role of the UN is therefore essential for us. We absolutely have to help and
strengthen this role of the United Nations and not circumvent it. Regarding the cohesion of our action, we can clearly see the importance of the 27 States in responding to crises and, in particular, the role of military means which, in such a major disaster, are essential. The military was very useful in Haiti. 3rd lesson: visibility…

• Was the visibility not really there? To what should we attribute it?

No, visibility was not the successful point of this operation. We acted, perhaps not as much as the United States, but significantly and quickly. But this was neither known nor seen. The Haitians told me: you were the first but not visible. We are probably too modest. It is not a question of doing like the Americans, undoubtedly, by displaying our presence everywhere. But we do not have to be ashamed of our action and our flag. On the contrary ! We must not keep our flag in our pocket. I do not accept the argument that visibility is incidental. Certainly it is action on the spot which is the first necessity. But for our population, it is also important to know where our money goes and what we do. It's a question of responsibility. We must be proud of what we have done and what we are still doing.

• The Member States have so far not wanted to set up a European civil protection force such as Europe Aid as proposed in the Barnier report or EU Fast as proposed by the Belgians, how are you going to convince them?

That is indeed the question. These contributions are very interesting. Now we have to ask ourselves the question why nothing happened. We must therefore first know what the Member States want, listen to all the arguments, see what they need, know where their red lines are. I started doing it. And there are various comments. Some want to be “more efficient”, others to have “incentives” to build capacity. I also believe that there has been no real analysis of the different possible options, nor of the cost-benefit ratio of the different options. Between the proposal for a Euroforce and zero action, we have no intermediate proposal. We have to start there. My approach is pragmatic and practical. Perhaps it will be necessary to propose a set of actions, a range of instruments or possible actions.

A communication by the end of the year on crisis response


• Do you believe we can progress? Is the crisis a negative or favorable factor?

I have no doubt about it. There is a new dynamic, a new institutional context. The Lisbon Treaty allows us to act. There is a Commissioner for Crisis Response and a High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and the Common Security Policy. And the economic and budgetary crisis will push us to act. When we look at the trend over recent years, what do we see? Disasters are increasing and our budgets tend to shrink. To reconcile the two, the only solution for me is capacity sharing. For institutional and economic reasons. But we must remain pragmatic, I repeat. I am convinced of it.

• As with forest fires, will this pilot project be repeated?

Yes, it’s an excellent project. It will be renewed this summer. And then we will see how to make it sustainable. This is an interesting initiative that could be developed or extended to other causes of disasters. Why not have an identical system for flooding, for example.

• Than the MIC (Civil Protection intervention unit at the level of the European Commission)?

That works well. It undoubtedly needs to be strengthened. We saw the usefulness of the European crisis response during the floods in Poland (and in several central European countries). When Poland asked for our help, just hours after our call, we had the equipment they were looking for.

• When will you present a proposal on this subject?

 I hope as soon as possible. I plan to present a communication by the end of the year followed by a legislative proposal next year. We have initiated a very intensive dialogue (NB: very difficult) on the subject with the Member States (NB: the communication could be presented in November and the inter-service consultation started in the summer or autumn at the latest).

• You are also Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid. What are your other priorities?

First of all, the action plan for the implementation of the humanitarian consensus. And also a legislative proposal on the corps of European volunteers (provided for by the Lisbon Treaty); I want to present a text next year.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(photo credit: ©NGV)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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