Strasbourg, 6 February 2018
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Mr President, honourable Members, dear Federica [Mogherini],
I also welcome this timely opportunity to join some of you today to discuss the situation of UNRWA, which is currently facing unprecedented challenges.
The European Union is convinced that the two-state solution is the only possible answer if we want to achieve lasting peace in the Middle East. We believe that any solution to the Israeli‑Arab conflict will need to include an agreed just and fair solution to the refugee question. The Palestinian refugee question has existed for almost 70 years. The United Nations General Assembly established and mandated UNRWA to provide assistance and protection to registered Palestinian refugees until a just and lasting solution is found to their plight.
This is the work that UNRWA continues to do, laying the groundwork for future development through its work in education and health, and contributing – as the High Representative has just said – to security and stability in the region. The Commission will disburse our scheduled payment for 2018, which is about EUR 82 million, already by the end of February – much earlier than originally planned. Some of our Member States have also announced plans to accelerate their contributions for this year and I can tell you that we will also do so in 2019 and 2020, at least, in order to reassure UNRWA from our side.
It is still too early to tell you how exactly UNRWA will be affected since the scope and nature of the cuts in US funding are not entirely clear. What we do know is that the EU will not be able to compensate for substantial US cuts, given the pressure on available funds. We can and will actively assist UNRWA in reaching out to non‑traditional donors in order to help the agency to broaden its donor base and, given the magnitude of the problem, we also need to work with host governments on how they might consider providing certain services that UNRWA cannot and maybe should not provide.
UNRWA needs reform. Some of its financial problems are structural and predate the US decision. The EU has long been calling on UNRWA to review its operational and financial planning approach in order to safeguard its basic and essential core services, intended to help the most marginalised refugees. We therefore commend UNRWA’s commitment to a process of comprehensive financial reforms, including measures sustaining institutional change and increasing the cost-effectiveness of its programmes.
But, in order to achieve improvements, we will work on this together with – and not against – the agency. There should be no doubt that the EU is and will remain a staunch and reliable supporter of UNRWA, both politically and financially. The EU and its Member States are by far the largest provider of assistance to Palestinian refugees – they provide around EUR 460 million a year. In June 2017, a joint declaration was signed between the EU and UNRWA as a framework for our financial and political support for the agency as further proof of our continued commitment, not just this year, but also in the years to come.
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Thank you, Mr President, and I thank the honourable Members for this debate which has highlighted the importance of UNRWA once again. It’s clear that we have to assist UNRWA in overcoming it current financial crisis. Unfortunately, it’s not the first one, but this time it has been triggered by one of the main donors.
From this debate I conclude that we all join in a common call for support to UNRWA as an important stabilising factor in the region and an important element in ensuring the viability of the two-state solution. Without UNRWA, millions of people, especially children, would lose access to essential services like education and health care.
We all are aware of what it means to lose one generation, or even several generations, if we fail to provide the necessary education and professional training and everything related to this. Such a failure might lead to radicalisation and other things which are definitely not in our, or the world’s, interests in future.
Today, as many Members have said, UNRWA provides assistance and protection for more than five million Palestinian refugees. The European Union enjoys a strong and dynamic partnership with UNRWA. I see Pierre Krähenbühl at least twice to three times a year to discuss with him what needs to be done to improve UNRWA’s performance in terms of the services it provides. We also discuss its internal structural needs and challenges and how UNRWA should be reformed. I can tell you that a lot of important measures have already taken. We should further support all the reform measures taken by UNRWA itself.
So I really appreciate all the support we gained today from the European Parliament, but I’m pretty sure that it will not be the last discussion about UNRWA and the Palestinians here in plenary.
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