ECHO (European Commission)

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The Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department of the European Commission (ECHO), formerly known as the European Community Humanitarian Aid Office, is the European Commission's department for overseas humanitarian aid and civil protection.

In 2007 it provided €768 million for emergency relief,[1] a number that rose to €930 million in 2009.[2] The EU institutions alone were collectively the second largest donor of official humanitarian aid in 2009 (14.3% of the global total humanitarian aid). The European Union as a whole (European Commission + Member States) is the world's biggest donor of humanitarian aid, providing over 50% of the total humanitarian aid in 2009.[3]

For its humanitarian interventions, ECHO does not implement assistance programmes itself; but funds operations through a wide range of around 200 partners (NGOs, UN Agencies, International organisations such as the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement).[4]


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European Community Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) was established in 1992 by the Second Delors Commission. Funding from the office affects 18 million people every year in 60 countries. It spends €700 million a year on humanitarian projects through its over 200 partners (such as the Red Cross, Relief NGOs and UN agencies). It claims a key focus is to make EU aid more effective and humanitarian.[5] With the European Community being abolished in 2009, the office began to be known as the Humanitarian Aid department of the European Commission or European Union, but kept its ECHO abbreviation.

A special Eurobarometer survey on humanitarian aid conducted in 2010 reveals the high sense of solidarity among European citizens towards victims of conflict and natural disasters outside their borders, with 8 out of ten citizens thinking that "it is important that the EU funds humanitarian aid outside its borders". However, less than 2 out of 10 European citizens spontaneously name the EU, the European Commission and/or ECHO as an actor funding humanitarian aid.[6]

Mandate and Principles[edit]

ECHO's mandate is to provide emergency assistance and relief (in the form of goods and services) to victims of conflict and natural or man-made disasters outside the EU. Its mandate also extends to disaster prevention and post-crisis operations.

European humanitarian aid is based on the principles of humanity and solidarity therefore its implementation depends on the application of international law, and in particular international humanitarian law, and on the fundamental principles of impartiality, non-discrimination and neutrality. ECHO’s humanitarian actions are based on compliance with international law and the humanitarian principles of non-discrimination, impartiality and neutrality.[7]

In 2007, at the initiative of Commissioner Louis Michel, the European Commission adopted a "European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid" to constitute the first European political text of reference on humanitarian aid.[8] NGOs participated actively to the drafting of the European Consensus and it can be considered "the most comprehensive text and the nearest common position to NGOs".[9] The European Consensus reaffirms the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality and independence. It also stipulates "humanitarian aid is not a management tool for crises management".

Although the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid was welcomed as a positive strong signal,[10] some NGOs expressed the wish that the success of the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid should be enhanced humanitarian response at field level and not merely enhanced rhetoric in Brussels. Amongst others, several NGOs called on the European Union to use its political influence to support humanitarian aid based on the mere principles of neutrality and impartiality and not on security agendas.[11]

The EU-funded, Partnership for Peace, aims to "strengthen the capacity for conflict resistance and empower marginalized parties as well to build trust between Israelis and Arabs by increasing regional cooperation."[12] In response to this, the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations' Network, a body representing 135 NGOs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, condemned the demand for collaboration between Palestinian NGOs and Israeli NGOs, saying it was "an attempt to involve civil society organizations in nationally unacceptable normalization with the occupation and its institutions, giving the impression that normal relations exist between the occupation and the people living under occupation."[13]


Since the Lisbon Treaty came into force, the European Union humanitarian aid action is ruled by Article 214 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union.[14] Humanitarian aid is a shared parallel competency: this means that the Union conducts an autonomous policy, which neither prevents the Member States from exercising their competences nor makes the Union’s policy merely “complementary” to those of the Member States.[15]

Until then, humanitarian aid was based, by default, on Article 179 of the EC Treaty (development policy). It used to be part of the Commissioner for Development's portfolio, first Louis Michel and then Karel de Gucht during the Barroso Commission I. The Lisbon Treaty introduced, for the first time, humanitarian aid as a policy in its own right in the EC Treaty. Since February 2010, humanitarian aid is managed by a dedicated Commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva.

As defined in article 214 TFEU, the EU's operations in the field of humanitarian aid are intended to provide ad hoc assistance and relief for people in third countries who are victims of natural or man-made disasters. Article 214 TFEU also reiterates the principles of humanitarian aid, these being respect for international law and the principles of impartiality, neutrality and non-discrimination.[16]

The Lisbon Treaty introduces a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps (Article 214 of the Treaty on the functioning of the EU), which young Europeans wishing to participate in humanitarian action can join.


In 2010, ECHO's aid budget amounted to €1 115 million. As for humanitarian aid, ECHO provided humanitarian assistance to about 151 million people in 80 non-EU countries, of which 39 were designated as being in situation of crisis. As for civil protection, the civil protection mechanism was activated 28 times in 2010 for crises inside and outside the EU.

The largest share of funding is for food and nutrition (39%). Health and medical sector (including psychosocial support) (13,4%), Water and Sanitation (12,8%), Shelter (9,6%) and Protection (6,3%) are the other main areas of activities. ECHO allocated 9,4% of the 2010 budget to Disaster preparedness. In 2010, Civil Protection represented 3% of the budget.

In 2010, 42% of the budget went to Africa and 39% to Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and Pacific.

Out of the total assistance provided in 2010, an estimated 44% was for natural disasters, 41% for long-term crises and 15% for ad hoc crises and interventions.[17]

Some charities have claimed European governments have inflated the amount they have spent on aid by incorrectly including money spent on debt relief, foreign students and refugees. Under the de-inflated figures, the Union did not reach its internal aid target in 2006.[18]

Again in 2010, the European Union did not reach its internal aid target: figures reveal that member states failed to hit the 0.56% collective target of gross national income for aid last year, a figure set in 2005. The target for 2015 is 0.7%.[19] In 2010, Netherlands (0.81%), Denmark (0.9%), Sweden (0.97%), Luxembourg (1.09%) and Norway (1.1%) were the only countries in the world that have met the ODA target of 0.7 of GNI.[20]

However, development aid reached an historic high in 2010. Together with the aid given by member states individually, the Union is the largest aid donor in the world.[21]


The European Commission has a mandate to save and preserve life in emergency and immediate post-emergency situations, whether these are natural or man-made. Following these principles, the Commission is committed to preparing every year a Strategy document in order to co-ordinate and to programme activities efficiently and in an appropriate manner adopting an impartial approach based on needs.

In 2012, the European Commission will focus its humanitarian aid on 36 countries, especially the Horn of Africa (€ 102 million), North Sudan and South Sudan (€87 million), Democratic Republic of Congo (€44 million), the Occupied Palestinian Territories (€40 million) and the Sahel (€45 million). 52% of the European Commission humanitarian assistance is destined for Sub-Saharan Africa. About 15% of the budget will be allocated to forgotten crisis,[22] such as the Sahrawi refugees in Algeria, the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal and the victims of armed conflict in Central Africa.

Moreover in addition to this initial budget of € 640 million, the European Commission has a reserve to respond to crises and unexpected disasters.

In 2010, the reserve budget was totally utilised in order to respond to major humanitarian crisis in Japan, in Libya, in Côte d'Ivoire and in the Horn of Africa.[23]


The former commissioner for aid, Louis Michel, had called for aid to be delivered more rapidly, to greater effect and on humanitarian principles.[21]

Since February 2010 after the approval of the new college of the European Commission the ECHO was put on another level. The appointment of a new commissioner with portfolio for International cooperation, humanitarian aid and crisis response corresponds to the Articles of the Treaty of Lisbon where Humanitarian aid and Civil Protection play a sustainable role. ECHO's new official name was changed to Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection. The transformation of ECHO and movement of Civil Protection Units from DG Environment to DG ECHO is a step forward to a better cooperation and decision making in a field where rapid reaction is lifesaving.

Clare Short, former British International Development Secretary said the European Commission ran ‘the worst development agency in the world’ and branded its operations ‘an outrage and a disgrace’.[24]

European Parliament Report[edit]

The Committee on Development (CD) of the European Parliament (EP) commissioned the Overseas Development Institute to undertake a project on the effectiveness of international development assistance from the European Commission.[25] The project focused on the cases of Cambodia, Mozambique and Peru. The findings and policy suggested can be summarized as follows:[25]

  1. Harmonisation and alignment (H&A) is crucial for state capacity and should be expanded from sharing and spreading information to increasing joint activities in the short-term.
  2. Donor harmonisation efforts need to be scaled up to include agreements on joint technical assistance and the streamlining of systems and procedures
  3. Extremely fragmented aid systems impose unreasonably high transaction costs on the government, drains valuable resources, and fundamentally weakens state capacity.
  4. EC procedures and structures remain highly complicated and bureaucratic.
  5. Much of the success or failure of cooperation depends on individual interactions, specific innovators and appropriate staffing levels to carry out the tasks at hand, but the costs are also quite high.
  6. Country Strategy Papers could improve aid effectiveness — but their quality is uneven.
  7. Relations between HQ and delegations needs to be improved.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ ECHO Annual Review 2007
  2. ^ ECHO Annual Report 2009
  3. ^ Global Humanitarian Assistance website
  4. ^ European Parlement Factsheet on the European Union: Humanitarian Aid
  5. ^ "Humanitarian aid and the European Union". Europa (web portal). Retrieved 2007-09-23. 
  6. ^ Eurobarometer survey on humanitarian aid: Europeans care – and endorse the Commission's mandate, European Commission. 2010-08-04. Retrieved 2012-01-13
  7. ^ Summaries of the EU legislation
  8. ^ Rapport sur la mise en oeuvre du consensus européen sur l'aide humanitaire, European Parliament, Retrieved 2012-01-16
  9. ^ Pierre Salignon, "L'Europe humanitaire en question(s)", Humanitaire, 19 | Été 2008. 2009-10-23. Retrieved on 2012-01-16
  10. ^ Statement of Angelo Gnaedinger, Director-General of ICRC to the European Parliament. 2009-01-29. Retrieved 2012-01-16
  11. ^ Action on humanitarian aid speaks louder than words, Howard Mollett and Annie Street, European Voice. 2007-03-27. Retrieved 2012-01-16
  12. ^ Middle East Peace Projects (Partnership for Peace)
  13. ^ How dare you make us cooperate with Israel, Palestinian NGOs protest to EU
  14. ^ Treaty on the functioning of the European Union, Official Journal of the European Union, 2010-03-30
  15. ^ Treaty of Lisbon: questions and answers
  16. ^ European Parlement Factsheet on the European Union:Humanitarian aid
  17. ^ 2010 Annual Report
  18. ^ Taylor, Jerome (2007-05-11). "EU accused of artificially inflating its aid figures". The Independent. Retrieved 2007-08-13. 
  19. ^ EU misses its aid target for 2010, Liz Ford, The Guardian. 2011-04-06. Retrieved 2012-01-16
  20. ^ [1]. See also the UN Millennium Project
  21. ^ a b "Commission calls for a European consensus to boost impact of humanitarian aid". European Commission. 2007-06-13. Retrieved 2007-08-13. 
  22. ^ Forgotten Crises Assessment 2012
  23. ^ UE : 640 millions d'euros pour l'assistance humanitaire en 2012; Radio Chine International. 2011-12-17. Retrieved 2012-01-16
  24. ^ How your money is squandered on foreign aid
  25. ^ a b Alina Rocha Menocal (2010) How effective is European Commission aid on the ground? Overseas Development Institute

External links[edit]