The European Union is the leading donor of humanitarian assistance. Of the €9.8 billion of humanitarian aid provided worldwide in 2010, some 41% was delivered by the EU (Member States and the European Commission). reflecting the European Union's solidarity with the victims of natural and man-made disaster.
The Commission's mandate encompasses humanitarian assistance and civil protection, the two main instruments at the European Union's disposal to ensure rapid and effective delivery of EU relief assistance to people faced with the immediate consequences of disasters. The European Union's humanitarian aid and civil protection policies enable it to demonstrate in practical terms its commitment to supporting those inside and outside the Union in need of assistance when they are at their most vulnerable.
The European Community is unique in clearly differentiating humanitarian aid from other forms of external assistance. DG ECHO is the only publicly financed department in the world solely devoted to funding the delivery of humanitarian aid. The fundamental principles that underpin humanitarian aid (humanity, impartiality, independence and neutrality) are in accordance with International Humanitarian Law and the defence of humanitarian space. In practice, decisions to grant humanitarian aid are solely based on an assessment of the beneficiary populations' humanitarian needs.
Through DG ECHO, the European Commission spends on average €1 billion per year on humanitarian aid.
These operations are financed under the budget headings specifically devoted to humanitarian aid: the EC budget Title 23 for humanitarian aid and the allocation to ACP countries for humanitarian and emergency assistance under the European Development Fund.
If necessary, the Commission may also ask the budgetary authority (Parliament and the Council) to increase its funding by mobilising the reserve for emergency aid (title 40), introduced by the Edinburgh European Council. This makes it possible to respond promptly to specific aid needs arising from events that could not have been foreseen when the budget was drawn up.
Over the past years, DG ECHO's budget was systematically reinforced, either through use of the Emergency Aid Reserve (EAR), through transfers from other budget lines within the External Aid heading or, in respect of ACP countries, by using resources from the European Development Fund (B-envelope) for amounts ranging from €71 million in 2001 to €208 million in 2010.
The Commission recognises that it is responsible for administering significant amounts of taxpayers' money. It is also fully aware of the expectations and scrutiny of Member States, Parliament and Court of Auditors. It constantly seeks to improve financial discipline and management. The Commission has a duty to check the cost-effectiveness of projects, and has a policy of zero tolerance for corrupt activities. ECHO regularly carries out audits and financial controls at the headquarters of humanitarian organisations and in the field.