Last 2 decades have seen more effective coordination between member countries, getting aid quickly to victims of disasters and conflicts around the world.
Whether it was famine in Somalia, refugee camps in ex-Yugoslavia, an earthquake in Peru or flooding in Bangladesh – the Commission’s humanitarian aid office, ECHO, has been on hand to help since 1992.
It was created to help coordinate the EU’s response to international crises, following a run of them in 1991 that had highlighted the bloc's weaknesses in this area.
Since then, the office has been continually streamlining the EU's crisis response – getting help to victims faster, and saving more lives in the process. For example, since 2001 it has been able to provide up to €3m in emergency funds within 48 hours.
In 2010, ECHO's remit was extended to include civil protection for victims of disasters inside Europe.
And last year, the office launched the pilot phase of the European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps – where ordinary citizens can get involved directly in disaster relief.
These activities have been accompanied by a more than threefold increase in the amount of humanitarian aid distributed by the EU, with the annual budget last year reaching €1bn.
The increase reflects a growing incidence of disasters around the world. But it also demonstrates the EU’s steady commitment to do more for those in need – a view shared by some 80% of Europeans, according to a recent survey
World's biggest aid donor
ECHO channels EU crisis support through some 200 humanitarian aid organisations – including UN agencies and NGOs.
Support includes immediate emergency assistance – medical treatment, food, water – and longer-term help for those in refugee camps, such as sanitation and schools.
In 2011, EU-funded projects helped some 160,000 children facing malnutrition in Africa’s Sahel region, as well as crisis victims in Haiti, Libya, Japan, Yemen and Somalia, among others.
The EU is the world's biggest donor of humanitarian aid. Along with its member countries, it contributes more than half of all official global aid.