Accompanied by several colleagues from Solidarités International, I had the pleasure of participating in the European Humanitarian Forum which was held in a hybrid format in Brussels and online, from March 21 to 23. This first European forum dedicated to the sector and its challenges was held in a context of acute humanitarian crisis, with the war in Ukraine and its millions of displaced people adding a special tone to the exchanges that brought together several hundred participants.
Supported by the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union (FPEU) and the European Commission’s Directorate General for Civil Protection and European Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO), the forum aimed to discuss the main issues at stake in the evolution of European humanitarian aid as recently expressed by the Commission in its latest communication (link), and the European counterpart of the National Humanitarian Conferences (CNH) organized by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and NGOs based in France since 2011. In fact, several of the central themes of the last CNH in December 2020 were addressed: the protection of humanitarian workers, the impact of sanctions regimes and counter-terrorism measures on our ability to implement our actions in the field, the question of the humanitarian-development-peace nexus and the development of structuring funding, etc.
A conventional but still useful exercise
After two years of long-distance meetings, it was obvious that the participants who met in Brussels were enjoying the renewed pleasure of informal exchanges, official dinners and corridor discussions, all in the exceptional setting of the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. The format of the forum sessions, which was very structured, unfortunately left little room for real debate between speakers and spontaneous questions from the audience. But this moment of reunion was above all an opportunity to recall the main concerns that we share within the sector: the ever-widening gap between the overall amount of humanitarian aid made available by too few donors and the needs of the 300 million people in need of assistance, the burning issue of violations of International Humanitarian Law and the shrinking space left to us to help populations, the difficulty of maintaining a dialogue with non-state armed groups within the increasingly constrained framework of national and international anti-terrorism laws, etc.
Among the many topics discussed, a few points should be highlighted. Everyone was able to see the importance given to the issues of localization of aid, which will soon be the subject of a new consultation by the European Commission. Let us hope that the angle taken by DG ECHO to introduce this subject, i.e. the promotion of mutually beneficial partnerships between local actors and international NGOs, will find its rightful place in the conclusions of this work. Efforts towards greater efficiency and the digital transition in the field of humanitarian logistics were also highlighted, which is also an important area of work for Solidarités International. On the issue of climate change, the Forum led to the publication of a “Declaration by humanitarian aid donors on climate and the environment”, endorsed by the 27 Member States of the European Union and the Commission. We have publicly welcomed this (link), while inviting donors to translate their support in principle for disaster prevention, preparedness, anticipation and response into strong actions.
A crisis in Ukraine on everyone’s mind
Although it was initially planned that the forum would only address cross-cutting issues without a specific geographical focus, a session was finally dedicated to the Ukrainian crisis. This session brought together many actors, such as Amin Awad, UN Coordinator in Ukraine, Hans Das, who is in charge of emergency management at DG ECHO, and Maksym Dotsenko, Director General of the Ukrainian Red Cross. For my part, I gave my testimony of the actions that Solidarités International has been carrying out in Ukraine since the end of February in partnership with many local actors. At the same time, throughout the forum, it was repeated that it is absolutely necessary to avoid that the humanitarian response to the Ukrainian crisis is done at the expense of other crises, in a context of skyrocketing needs and at a time when the conflict is already causing significant increases in food prices around the world.
Finally, the Ukrainian context is undoubtedly the reason for the political importance given to this first European forum. Let us judge: 15 foreign ministers from different member states took part in the exchanges, the United Nations was represented by the heads of several major UN agencies, Commissioner Janez Lenarčič spoke on several occasions, and the two main hosts Ursula Von Der Leyen and Emmanuel Macron both gave their respective testimonies via a video. With such a large audience, one can only regret that the forum was not the occasion for more concrete political commitments, beyond the affirmation of a “team Europe” claiming to be a true global “humanitarian power” due to its leading role as a donor, which is certainly an oxymoron and poorly masks the persistent disparity in the level of contribution of the various member states to aid funding.
However, we can congratulate the organizers on the success of this first edition, and we are delighted that the Commission has already announced a renewal of this initiative, with a second edition to be held under the Swedish presidency of the Council of the European Union, in March 2023.
Who is Kevin Goldberg ?
Kevin Goldberg began his career working with parliamentarians and local elected officials in Brussels and Paris. In 2013, he joined the cabinet of the Chairman of the Board of GROUPE SOS, the first European social enterprise, as head of development and partnerships. In 2017, he took part in the creation of an International Action sector bringing together the NGOs affiliated with the GROUPE SOS, and then became its general manager. At the same time, he is in charge of the management of PULSE, an association specialized in supporting the creation of social enterprises in France and abroad. In January 2021, Kevin Goldberg joined the humanitarian NGO SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL as Executive Director. Kevin is a graduate of Sciences Po Grenoble, the College of Europe and the University of Paris Dauphine.