The EU's aid commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva, talks to DW about Pakistan and her bid to streamline Europe's crisis response. She says the EU's generosity is something to be proud of, but it could be more efficient.
Floods displaced 20 million people in Pakistan
The European Union's humanitarian aid and crisis response commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva, recently returned from Pakistan, where some 20 million people have been affected by floods. Although Georgieva, a Bulgraian economist, proudly stands behind the EU's swift response to the floods and its member states' 230 million euros ($292 million) in relief pledges to Pakistan, she says Europe must be prepared to react to emergencies more efficiently.
Deutsche Welle: What changes must the EU make?
Kristalina Georgieva: We need to improve on speed, coordination and visibility of our assistance. The EU was the first there, and yet that wasn't noticed, because we still don't have the system in place to show the collective effort of Europe in a case of disaster. So I will be putting forward a proposal that emphasizes the coordination of our assistance, the ability to pre-commit assets from member states that we know we can mobilize in the case of a disaster, improving our logistics, and making sure that we present European assistance to our citizens in a way that give them grounds to be proud of their generosity.
You've been in office for about seven months. Given your extensive experience in economics and finance, do you already see any areas where the EU could make its money go further by streamlining processes or structures?
Georgieva wants European aid money used more effeciently
Yes. In my own area of responsibility I have already requested that we look at the process of project approval. We are clear that we have strong financial accountability for money we spend. Every euro our taxpayers give for people in need has to be stretched to the fullest. It has to serve these people. At the same time, we can do that with less overwhelming bureaucratic processes.
Dutch journalist and aid specialist Linda Polman has written a book criticizing that there are too many aid agencies and NGOs operating in crisis zones - and that this has also become a huge and often shady industry. What steps can the EU take to promote accountability and transparency within these operations?
We work with about 200 partner organizations, but we don't give them a blank check. The way we operate is, every year we review one-third of our partners and one-third of our projects. If we find that a partner or a project is not delivering, then it is canceled. This has lifted up the accountability on the side of our partners, but in addition to that, we have made a conscious decision to place half of our staff in hotspot areas in the field. They are the eyes and ears of the Commission and, through it, of our taxpayers.
There has been speculation that the Taliban could benefit from the flood in Pakistan. Are political considerations also at the forefront in terms of how the EU is dealing with the disaster in there?
In humanitarian assistance we very strongly apply the principle of neutrality and independence. We help people because they need help. When we look at Pakistan, we also recognize that in a country of that size - 170 million people; 20 million affected by floods, that has part of its territory suffering from conflicts and millions actually being displaced by conflicts - that the floods present an additional challenge to stability in the country and, of course, to security in the world. This is why it is doubly important [that we give aid]: We need to reach people because they need help. We need to reach people because [not reaching them] would create chaos, and chaos can lead to destruction. That is where, in the case of Pakistan, the mobilization and delivery of assistance, as complex as it is, is also such a high priority for us.
Interview: Neil King (dl)
Editor: Nancy Isenson