Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs
Press Conference - Zagreb, 30 January 1995
I have come today at the end of my mission to Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as at the end of my very first week in office as European Commissioner responsible for Humanitarian Affairs.
None of this may sound particularly eventful, especially in this part of the world: but visiting Zagreb, Sarajevo and Mostar so early in my mandate was meant to give a tangible demonstration of my personal commitment to this task. It is also a clear sign of the Europen Union's continuing commitment to alleviate the suffering of the people whose lives have been disrupted by the conflict, in a region that is very much part of Europe.
Since the start of the Yugoslav crisis, the International Community has given an unprecedent response to the humanitarian needs of the victims of the conflict, providing an assistance amounting to approximately 2.7 billion dollars. The European Union has contributed 70% of this aid, equivalent to 1.9 billion dollars.
This assistance has been comprehensive and diversified so as to meet the many different needs of the populations concerned. Actions have ranged from providing emergency food aid, shelter, health care, hygene projects, to psycho-social programmes, encouraging the relief of traumatised women and children, as well as contributing to educational activities and minor reconstruction projects.
In line with the principle of neutrality of humanitarian assistance, European Union aid has been equitably distributed to all of the republics of former Yugoslavia as follows:
- Bosnia-Herzegovina: 52%
- Croatia (including the UNPAs): 24%
- Serbia-Montenegro: 19%
- Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: 4%
- Slovenia: 1%
After three years of conflict, a slight improvement in the general food situation of all republics and in particular in Bosnia-Herzegovina seems under way. In spite of this trend, and in the face of the sudden emergence of other pressing humanitarian catastrophes - in particular in Rwanda but also, more recently, in Chechenya - the Humanitarian Office of the European Commission (ECHO) has pursued its major effort in former Yugoslavia, contributing 330 million US dollars in aid during 1994 and committing further 193 million US dollars for the first six months of 1995.
This assistace comes on top of the aid provided bilaterally by the Member States of the European Union.
The purpose of my mission was three-fold:
1. To provide a message of support and encouragement for the humanitarian operators (from the Euopean Union, from International Agencies and NGO's) who carry out their work in very difficult - sometimes unbearable - conditions. We should all pay tribute to their silent dedication.
2. To assess and very the efficiency of our assistance on the ground, its limits - if any, and the margins for improving the aid's performance - this will be a constant preoccupation in managing my policy and financial resources.
3. To provide more political visibility for this important action of the European Union. This is not meant to provide an alibi for political inaction, nor a self-congratulatory rethoric. Visibility of the aid is important because it has to do with accountability vis-a-vis European citizens, who are also tax-payers. They must consciously be part of this effort of solidarity but will want to see that they get (in terms of efficiency) value for money. This is the only way to prevent further spreading of what people call the "donors' fatigue".
I feel thet the mission has been very fruitful on all three accounts, even though some of the issues we are facing will have to be analyzed carefully back home.
I had comprehensive exchanges of wies with the most representative agencies and NGO's, wich are present on the ground in Zagreb, in Sarajevo and in Mostar. They all welcomed my message of support, and I had in turn the opportunity to benefit from their daily experience of humanitarian work. Many of these agencies and NGO's are wholly or partly financed by ECHO.
I also had official contacts with Government representatives of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as the EU Administration and the local communities in Mostar. Throughout these contacts, I emphasized the need to get rid of many obstacles and red tape procedures which hamper the flow of humanitarian aid. While we are all aware of the complexity of the political and military situation prevailing in some of the areas mostly in need, we undertook to find wherever possible positive responses to the many problems which still affect the distribution of humanitarian aid.
I also feel that my message on visibility was generally well received and understood. Your help - in the media community - can also provide a decisive contribution in explaining to the wider public the needs and the merit of humanitarian assistance.
Let me also mention that I took the opportunity, while in Mostar, to pay tribute to the efforts of the EU Administration, which has the difficult task of rebuilding a viable socio-economic tissue after a period of extreme confrontation and conflict among the local communities, which has left many scars.
And - to conclude - on a sad note - my arrival in Sarajevo coincided, as you know, with an ominous "celebration" of the 1000 days of siege, that is the longest siege of any city in modern history (the siege of Leningrad lasted "only" 930 days!) - Let's all hope we will soon get rid of any such celebrations: what we need is a victory of the European spirit.