Check against delivery

Thank you, Madam Chairperson. Very pleased to be with you. Honoured to be given this opportunity to speak to you on the subject of trust in humanitarian action. But also wish to be very humble: I have been in my position as European Commissioner for Crisis Management, with responsibility for humanitarian aid, for less than two weeks. 

So what have I learned so far on the subject of trust in humanitarian aid?

It goes without saying that trust is fundamental to all humanitarian action. Trust between humanitarian workers and affected people in a crisis. Trust between a donor and its partners. And I do want to highlight here the trust that is the basis of our relationship with the ICRC and the Federation and the Movement as a whole. Trust between the government of an affected country and those coming in from outside to help. Trust even between armed groups or military actors in a conflict, and the humanitarian workers. And of course the humanitarian principles are the foundation for that trust. A guarantee that there are no ulterior motives in humanitarian action. That what you see is what you get.

What does trust mean for a humanitarian donor like the European Union? Let me touch on three ways in which trust matters to us. And I have no doubt that we need collectively to do better on all three.

First, as a humanitarian community we need to work much harder to gain the trust of affected populations. In order to address the most pressing needs of the most vulnerable. And that means involving affected people from the start. Listening to whether the aid delivered corresponds to what they need. That should be self-evident. But I understand it is not. Not yet, and not everywhere.

Building on the expertise of locally-based organizations is a key part of this. Empowering local actors. This is also one of the most challenging aspects of trust for many of us donors. Red Cross and Red Crescent societies are of course part of the world’s biggest humanitarian network. I know that you are at the cutting edge of the movement towards greater localization of humanitarian aid. And this is a movement I want to succeed.

Second, trust between donors and their partners more generally. Donors want accountability for their funding. And sometimes that can be a heavy burden. Humanitarian actors want the leeway to work for affected people the way they see fit. And that does not always match with what donors expect. The Grand Bargain tries to get us out of this tension. With more strategic funding. More multiannual funding. Less red tape. But also greater assurance on results. More joined-up needs assessment. Better prioritization. Stronger guarantees that humanitarian action is focussed on the most vulnerable.

I am sure we can make real strides towards delivering on the Grand Bargain. But trust will be fundamental to it.

Third, an issue that I know is of considerable concern to many in the humanitarian community. The relationship between counter-terrorism, sanctions and humanitarian action. This is not an easy issue to address. Because there are clearly legitimate objectives and concerns on all sides. But we should do our best to avoid taking measures to further one objective which could have unintended consequences for another.

After less than two weeks in the job, I do not claim to have a simple solution. I do know that trust has to be an important element in any way forward. That in those cases where it has been possible to find solutions, trust is a key ingredient. And I do want to commit to work with our humanitarian partners to make progress on this issue.

I also know that the humanitarian principles and respect for IHL have to be at the centre of any way forward. Which takes me back to my first point. Trust is what humanitarian action is about. Trust in the notion that there are certain standards and norms that we all subscribe to, even in the midst of conflict.

Only last month, the Council of the EU – that is, all the Member States of the EU – adopted Conclusions on IHL and humanitarian aid. They make it clear that IHL is not negotiable. That respect for IHL is at the heart of a rules-based international order. You can trust us to be serious about this commitment. And you should hold us to it.

Thank you, Madam Chairperson.