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Press Release
EU Ministers for Development Cooperation discussed follow-up efforts for populations affected by the tsunami

Date of release : 14-02-2005

Policy area : General Affairs and External Relations

Event : Informal Meeting of Development Ministers

The EU Ministers for Development held an informal meeting in Luxembourg under the chairmanship of Jean-Louis Schiltz, Luxembourg Minister for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Action. The session of 14 February was dedicated exclusively to follow-up of the tsunami and to measures decided upon at the meeting of the "General Affairs and External Relations" Council meetings of 7 and 31 January  which an EU action plan was defined."

"Today we talked about the first steps for implementing this plan," the Minister said during a press conference.

"We have two very specific components on the table today. First, there is the humanitarian component. The Commission gave us a table for following up on the commitments the Member States have made, because it is important for us to be fully accountable in this second phase of reconstruction that follows the enormous solidarity that characterised the first phase. We are now entering the accountability phase. And I congratulate the Commission for pursuing the Presidency’s initiative and setting up a system of tables that provides information about the level of humanitarian commitments. The humanitarian commitments at this point amount to 323 million euros, one third of which is from the Commission."

"For the second phase, the reconstruction phase, on the basis of the Presidency’s initiative and the action plan, the Commission has also just set up a system of focal points in the different Member States, tasked with exchanging, centralising, updating and then disseminating information about the financial commitments that have been made for the reconstruction phase, and also the translating of these commitments into direct funding decisions. The Member States unanimously expressed their appreciation for these initiatives."

"We have also taken initial stock of the humanitarian aid effort. On Friday, 11 February 2005, I met Jan Egeland, UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, in New York, where we reviewed the situation regarding the objectives of UN OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) in order to ensure the control and monitoring of the humanitarian phase. The Member States have hailed the United Nations’ attempts to achieve more transparency and support the efforts aimed at improving the system for monitoring the humanitarian phase. Jan Egeland explained to me in detail that UN OCHA had reached an agreement with Price Waterhouse Coopers to improve the ‘financial tracking’ monitoring system and also to introduce a ‘forensic accounting’ system, the aim of which is to detect from the outset when funds are being used inappropriately."

"I also proposed to my colleagues to contact the UN by way of a letter from the Ministers for Development to explain our expectations and those of the populations during the second phase on the ground. For example, was the school that was destroyed really rebuilt and was the reconstruction done in a sustainable way?"

"We also agreed to make an initial assessment of the humanitarian phase six months after the tsunami. It will be a joint United Nations - Commission – Presidency assessment to be presented in Luxembourg on 26 June."

Minister Schiltz made a few more observations about the first phase of the humanitarian intervention: "First of all, we must avoid duplications, make the systems more compatible as well, and improve logistics where they have not been working very well to date. All of this also involves resources to be made available to UNOCHA. Next, for the second phase of reconstruction, we decided that the affected countries should play a leading role at the level of reconstruction. It is incumbent upon us to tell them what we can do, but it is up to them to tell us what we have to do. We must use this second phase to attempt to contribute to the reduction of conflicts in the affected areas. This second phase is one in which all political players must contribute to reduce these conflicts. A final remark: "We also need a monitoring system, and the Commission has set up a first stage. To this end, we will contact the UN’s Special Envoy, Mr Bill Clinton, who will assume his duties on 1 March. Finally, we decided that the principles of the special status of humanitarian aid must be observed."

The Ministers also discussed the EU’s rapid response capability in the event of a crisis. "Discussions on this subject are not finished," Minister Schlitz said. "The Presidency decided on three items. Firstly, it is important to us to improve the communication and information systems. Second, it is up to us to prevent the duplication of existing systems, because this has an impact on the aid’s effectiveness. Third, it is important to respect the UN’s leading role and humanitarian principles in this first phase."

In response to a question about the amount of Official Development Assistance (ODA), Jean-Louis Schiltz stated: "The discussion of strengthening rapid capabilities is an ongoing one. But neither the Presidency nor the Commission are in a position to draw definitive conclusions at this stage."

"We will not change things simply for the sake of changing them, nor to only realise afterwards that we are duplicating existing mechanisms. Our efforts will strengthen and improve coordination in a very concrete manner. We met with Commissioner Michel on 4 January. It was difficult to set up coordination, but this was due to the situation on the ground. Nonetheless, it was done under the auspices of UN OCHA. What we must avoid is finding ourselves at an airport with 15 organisations that all want to have a coordinating role."

"UN OCHA’s main role is not new, since there are agreements between UN OCHA and the MIC (the EU’s civil protection mechanism) and UN OCHA and ECHO that were signed during the course of 2004. We realised that there is room for improvement in communication and information among the Member States. That is where the idea of a coordinating mechanism comes from. In our thinking, we must discuss any and all ideas that help improve coordination, such as to create a humanitarian corps. All of these ideas are now in the reflection stage. We all want to make improvements and not duplicate things."

In response to another question about the amount of ODA from the EU Member States, Jean-Louis Schiltz answered: "On 9 November 2004 the Union decided that it must play a leading role in the High-Level Forum in September in New York on the Millennium Goals, and what it must do to achieve these goals. It is clear that ODA contributions must be increased. It is important not to fall into the 'name and shame' trap. Member States must work together to recognise the problems that some States are encountering so that together they can increase commitments to have a strong position at the UN in September. But I am unable to mention any figures now and I will not be able to do so tomorrow either." 

This page was last modified on : 18-02-2005

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