EU humanitarian aid: caught between nexus and independence

EU humanitarian aid: caught between nexus and independence

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Friesen, Ina / Pauline Veron / Vera Mazzara
External Publications (2020)

Brussels: European Think Tanks Group

The European Union is facing increasingly complex and protracted crises and massive humanitarian consequences of the Syrian and Yemen conflicts and long-standing political, economic and social crises in Africa. Shifting geopolitics and global failures in the diplomatic sphere to prevent and resolve violent conflict, which the EU has also contributed to, or more recently failures in global health governance, have created and exacerbated humanitarian need. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated existing humanitarian crises and is likely to cause additional humanitarian emergencies in other countries, has added to an already full agenda of challenges for the new leadership of the European Commission.

The new European Commission has set out to address global challenges as a “Geopolitical Commission” , linking internal and external policy and enhancing European leadership across a number of policy areas, including humanitarian aid. The envisaged role for humanitarian aid consists of working together with development and security actors to better respond to protracted crises. Yet, although the EU has been advocating and implementing the integrated approach for the past 20 years, many of its core challenges remain unresolved. Given the EU’s current strong focus on its internal interests (e.g., migration management, security, and recently crisis management in response to COVID-19 within the EU’s borders), tensions could arise between humanitarian needs and principles and other EU priorities.

This brief analyses current issues in the EU’s humanitarian aid and makes recommendations for responding to the challenges ahead. Specifically, it addresses the tensions between the Commission’s ambition to be a geopolitical actor and to better respond to multidimensional crises through a ‘nexus approach’ and the strong needs-based humanitarian assistance the EU provides. The analysis is based on a structured review of academic and policy sources, complemented by interviews with Brussels-based humanitarian aid policymakers.


About the author

Friesen, Ina

Political Science


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