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The Atlantic Council of the United States

From North Korea to South Sudan: The Path of Crisis and the European Response

Frederick Kempe,
President and CEO,
The Atlantic Council

Welcome and Introduction:
Robert Gelbard,
Gelbard International Consulting

Kristalina Georgieva,
Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response,
European Union

Location: Washington, D.C.

Date: Friday, September 23, 2011 

Transcript by
Federal News Service
Washington, D.C.

FREDERICK KEMPE: Welcome. I’m Fred Kempe, president and CEO of the Atlantic Council. And on behalf of the Atlantic Council, Commissioner Georgieva, thank you so much for joining us. And it couldn’t be a more timely visit to Washington. I know there are a lot of experts in the audience eager to hear your comments and eager to exchange with you. Over the past few years the Atlantic Council has been working hard to look at how the U.S. and Europe can handle global challenges together.

In fact, when we changed our mission – changed our mission statement; our mission has been consistent over our 50 year history – but we focused much more on global issues, renewing the Atlantic community for global challenges. We knew the U.S-EU had to become stronger, NATO had to become stronger, bilateral relations had to become stronger. But we knew at the same time that both sides were going to lose interest in each other if we couldn’t apply our talents, our strength, our capabilities to disasters, to conflicts outside of our own borders.

As many of you in the audience know, the U.S. and EU are the world’s two largest providers of humanitarian assistance. In fact, together we provide an astonishing 75 to 80 percent of worldwide humanitarian aid, though, as we were just discussing in the hallway on the way here, is – there are a lot of newcomers that also affect the world of humanitarian assistance. We have too much to do – too many people in need for us not to work together better in responding to global crises. And that’s why Commissioner Georgieva’s visit today is so relevant.

To introduce the commissioner, let me give the floor to Ambassador Robert Gelbard, former U.S. ambassador to Bolivia and Indonesia and Atlantic Council board member but also one of the finest diplomats I’ve ever known, one of the most skilled and incisive thinkers I’ve worked with and also a very valuable adviser to me in running the Atlantic Council. Ambassador Gelbard. (Applause.)

ROBERT GELBARD: It’s a great honor for the Atlantic Council to have Kristalina Georgieva here to speak to us today. And I have to say, it’s a great pleasure for me to introduce her since she is a friend. She has had outstanding careers, first in academia then at the World Bank and now in the commission. She – Bulgarian, as I’m sure all of you know, and is a graduate of the – of Sofia’s University of National and World Economy, including getting her doctorate there in environmental policy.

Many of you – I’m sure most of you don’t know this university but I can assure you it is one of the outstanding academic institutions not just in Bulgaria but in southeastern Europe. And I’ve had the privilege of giving a few speeches there so I know that it is a place of great intellectual rigor. And she’s now on the board of trustees there.

She also worked at – or studied at MIT and taught there. And I think one of the most interesting and surprising things for me, even having known you for some time, was to discover that you had taught at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji – (laughter) – and still returned. (Laughter.) She was at the World Bank for 18 years working on environmental policy, ran the Russia program, and rose very quickly in the Bank – a difficult and very, very interesting bureaucracy – and was, prior to taking this position, corporate secretary of the Bank and vice president.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the intricacies of World Bank positions, corporate secretary is a very senior and very important position. And I know that there was a tremendous wrestling match that went on, I mean, between Bob Zoellick, the Bulgarian government, and the European Commission about where she would go or not go last year. And ultimately the joint forces of the European Commission and the EU and Bulgaria won out and she left the World Bank.

During her time now as commissioner she has truly distinguished herself. I saw only one poll on this last year but in it she was voted the outstanding commissioner in the – in the European Commission. And she was also voted by the Sofia Morning News, an online newspaper that I – for my sins, I read every morning. She was voted the outstanding Bulgarian last year. I confess that I did vote – (laughter) – several times. (Laughter.)

So we are really privileged that Kristalina is here and I know by the size of this audience that there are a lot of people who are extremely interested in what she has to say. Your visit is very timely, so welcome. (Applause.)

KRISTALINA GEORGIEVA: Thank you very much, Ambassador, for this very kind introduction. And actually, you brought me back in history; when I left for Fiji that was in 1990 at the time of change. I arrived and at the border the lady – border control took my passport, typed something on her computer, look at me and said, where are you from? And I said, Bulgaria. She typed again and she said there is no such country. (Laughter.) I happen to be the first Bulgarian ever to cross the border.

I’m obviously very, very, very honored to be with you today. I have been a commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis response for just over 18 months now. And in this short period of time I have witnessed every possible disaster, with the exception of a comet hitting planet Earth, many times over: earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, droughts, summer heat, winter storm, volcanic eruption and of course ,also, conflicts that tear apart communities and countries.

And what I want to start from is to talk about the path of humanitarian crisis and what is ahead of us. What you see on this map in red and yellow is where disasters are more frequent and kill most people. And obviously the regions of the world at highest risk are in the South Pacific, Asia, Africa, Central America, but also Europe and parts of United States. And if we overlay famine and then crop failure and then droughts and then demography – high population growth – and then we add to that coastal area shocks, this gives you a picture of vulnerability, fragility of the world to disasters.

And then we look at conflicts caused by fragility of states. At any one point, 30 to 40 states are either in a conflict or slipping into a conflict or coming out of a conflict – the most recent one being in North Africa. And I don’t want to leave this map before making one important point that developed countries are not immune against natural disasters. These are the places this year only, 2011 – Australia, New Zealand, United States, Japan, Europe – where natural disasters have caused multibillion dollars damage. This year may go in history as the most expensive in terms of disaster impact in the world.

So we have fragility and social stress, then of course the poorer the country the more significant the humanitarian impact. So what do we do about it? As we heard in the introduction, humanitarian crisis usually bring the best out of people, especially in Europe and in United States. Together we are indeed a force for good. Every time a disaster strikes we come through – our citizens come through.

But there is also an increased role for emerging donors and I would just say one thing – with more wealth comes more responsibility. But this responsibility has to be played constructively in multilateral setting. More important than the money we put from U.S. in – and Europe is the way we pursue humanitarian objectives together by pushing the U.N. to be more effective, by making sure that the most vulnerable people get help – we reach out to them – by making sure that lives are saved and actually livelihoods restarted around the world.

But we also have some policy differences, and I want to frame them and maybe in the discussion we can come to some of those. The first one is very obvious. Europe is not one state. And as a result, we don’t always say the same thing. And that, of course, confuses our American friends. On many issues our member states have differences in opinion. And it is an important task for us, in this area and even more in the economic area, to come on the same page – speak with one voice.

Secondly, in Europe, we have made the conscious choice to keep humanitarian action institutionally separate of political decision making. As a commissioner for humanitarian aid, I have my independent resources and team. We are not part of the external action service, the new political body. And Lady Ashton makes her political decisions; I make my humanitarian decisions. And I’ll come in examples on this point.

A third difference is a very interesting one and it is anti-terrorism legislation – in –obviously very important not to let money or assets to get in the wrong hands – very important. In the U.S. this legislation actually has gone to a level of stringency that creates some unintended consequences for humanitarian work. For example, U.S. cannot fund training in international humanitarian law, and that of course is a constraint to trying to bring – to bring military groups to the table, whereas in Europe we can do it.

And we – I mean, I just want to praise the Obama administration for easing the application of this legislation for the Horn of Africa so in al-Shabab areas people can be helped. But yet, there is still some way to go for us to come on the same – on the same page. And one interesting institutional difference: In my portfolio I’m also responsible for coordinating civil protection deployment inside Europe and outside Europe. In other words, I have a little bit of FEMA – (chuckles) – in me.

Now, let me move to a bit of information on how we operate in the commission in my humanitarian activities. Very, very important to flag – we have a growing spending on humanitarian budgets – last year over 1.1 billion euros, this is $1.5 billion. And this strength is driven by two things: needs becoming more profound, more severe; but also predictability needed for humanitarian budgets. With some of our member states facing austerity and therefore constraints in terms of funding, it is important that Europe as a whole doesn’t slip out of the humanitarian arena. And on this I stand on the shoulders of my citizens. Eighty percent of Europeans want to see us acting in humanitarian emergencies. They want us to be there for people in need.

So where is our humanitarian action? In Europe we follow the needs. We go where the needs are. This is our driver. And obviously – I mean, if you go back, these are – these are the needs, this is where our projects are. And the only other thing we look at is can we really reach people in need? So let me go in five examples – moving from north, from North Korea, down to south, to South Sudan – to illustrate some of these policy choices we have made.

So North Korea – what we have there is a terrible regime that starves its own people. This year, bad harvest caused by bad weather and foot and mouth disease have made starvation a real threat to the lives of kids and women and elderly. And we had to decide, are we going to help? And we decided that, yes, we will do it. Why? Because we have been able to satisfy our demand for monitoring assistance from Europe, from the port to end recipients. So we are targeting 650,000 people – kids, pregnant women, elderly – and we have monitoring – we actually just had the team going there that does verify that none of our assistance is shipped to the wrong hands.

Yemen – it’s a very interesting case. Because of the impartiality of my position, I do not have a – I don’t wear a political hat – I was able, together with High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres to go into Houthi-controlled territories – I don’t know how many of you have ever been to Yemen or know Yemen, but in the north of the country it is controlled by Houthi. And this is a picture with Houthi commanders when we negotiated access for humanitarian workers on their territory. And this agreement still stands, even in deteriorating conditions in Yemen.

Libya – it’s a very, very profound crisis for us in Europe because it is in our backyard. And there the most critical issue was civil-military interface. We got a U.N. resolution unanimously that saved the lives of people in Benghazi. We also had in Europe a military operation on standby called EUFOR to protect humanitarian delivery if needed, but only if U.N. OCHA, the U.N. humanitarian arm, is to call for it – if there is a civilian call for it. What happened was we were able to deliver assistance without military intervention. EUFOR remained an operation and still remains in operational standby.

Horn of Africa – this is the biggest humanitarian emergency today, affecting over 13 million people, a very huge territory and of course anchored in Somalia where the conflict has teared the country for decades. Now, two lessons from the Horn of Africa: One, we simply cannot afford to have failed states anywhere. We cannot close our eyes to Somalia. We have to find an international pathway for stability in the country or a famine will hit again. People will die again.

And of course there is a lot that can be said, and maybe we’ll come back to it in Q&A on how we can get access in al-Shabab-controlled areas. There are NGOs that braved to stay there and they are the delivery of now assistance to nearly 2 million people. But the second lesson from the Horn is that we must invest more in resilience because a drought will come again and again and again. And that is a point that I hope you would come to because unless we do that, the humanitarian costs will continue to rise – to grow.

And let me finish with South Sudan. Well, we – from a humanitarian point of view, the problem – the most profound problem we face there is a lack of access to areas of fighting, like South Kordofan, the Blue Nile state. And it is terrible because without access people cannot be helped. But the big issue for South Sudan is: Are we going to have a failed state born there? And the only way to answer this question is through political engagement and development.

So let me finish with three take-home points. One: We live in a world that may be richer, but it is also more fragile. And in this world it is paramount for us to cooperate – and our trans-Atlantic cooperation actually has a tremendous significance in this – in this more fragile world – especially vis-à-vis the emerging donors who may not be tempted to operate in multilateral setting, and therefore an engagement with them is a very critical task.

Two: If we want to see less human suffering, we have to invest in resilience to natural disasters. This has to become a high priority in the 20 to 30 disaster-prone countries – higher priority that it is today. Three: Yes, humanitarian aid must be impartial, neutral, independent, but that doesn’t put it on a different planet. What happens in political terms, what happens in investment and development matters tremendously because democracy and development – this is the pathway for humanitarian crises of the future to be less profound than they otherwise can be.

So let me stop here. Thank you very much for your presence today. And I would be very happy to engage in a discussion with this audience. Thank you. (Applause.)

MR. KEMPE: Madam Commissioner, thank you very much for those comments. Very much to the point and also leaving us a good amount of time for questions. We’ve got so many people with so much interest in the audience, I think I’ll just throw one question out to get us started and then turn it directly to the audience.

North Korea. The U.S. is taking a somewhat different approach. How do you work with countries like North Korea where, as you said, it’s starving its own people? How do you work around uncooperative governments when you’re trying to help civilians?

MS. GEORGIEVA: Well, that – I mean, this is – this is a very good question. And I can tell you we spent a lot of time on this question with my team. And where we came on it was that we have a moral obligation to relieve suffering, and actually by doing so, to bring hope to people that a better world is possible. But we can only do that if we are confident in our capacity to control our assistance to reach beneficiaries.

So what we did was we put a very detailed requirement on monitoring to the North Korean authorities. We engaged with the World Food Program, and we said this is the protocol we want. We want unlimited access to beneficiaries. We want – when our team – our team to go whenever they want to go and to be able to visit whatever they want to visit. And if these conditions are not met we will stop.

MR. KEMPE: And you got that?

MS. GEORGIEVA: We got that and we got the team going to North Korea. Just 10 days ago I – the report they brought – (chuckles) – they actually weren’t skeptical. And of course we made the provisions to stop. And I can tell you – I can tell each one of you, I look you in the eye: They misbehave, we stop. I have absolutely no hesitation on that. But they behaved. Now, why did they behave?

MR. KEMPE: That was my question, yeah. (Laughter.)

MS. GEORGIEVA: Here is what – as somebody coming from a former dictatorship, what my guess is. I may be wrong; I may be right. But my guess is they are going to have next year a big celebration of the 50th anniversary from – or 60th – what was it?

MR. : 100 birthday –

MS. GEORGIEVA: Hundred – the birthday, hundred – sorry. The 100th birthday of the – was it great leader or –

MR. : (Inaudible.)

MS. GEORGEIVA: Yes. So they – they’re going to have that next year. And they – at the same time they are hit by basically famine. We don’t call it famine, but in parts of the country it is famine. And they don’t like that. So they are willing to behave today. That doesn’t mean that they are going to behave tomorrow.

But today categorically we have access – our people went there. If you go on my webpage – I’m sorry, it doesn’t – you can’t see it very easily. But you go on my webpage – you go on my blog – you will see a blog that is filmed access to North Korean recipients of humanitarian aid. And here is the question to us: If we want to be true to our own values – if we want humanity to have its own space – can we close our eyes and our hearts to starving kids in North Korea? I don’t think we can.

MR. KEMPE: If one can be effective, I think that would be a real breakthrough. I lied; I’m going to ask one more. (Laughter.) You talked about the biggest problem – crisis today being the Horn of Africa – 30 million (people). We’ve been here before. We’ve seen this movie before. Is that what humanitarian assistance is about, just going back time and time again, or can crisis intervention measures, what you do, also make A long-term difference in conflict resolution or sustainable development?

MS. GEORGIEVA: You know, this is a – this is a very critical question. When I travel to the Horn of Africa – to Kenya, Somalia, and then I – later on I went to Ethiopia – I also visited a district in the north of Kenya called Moyale. It is in the part of Kenya very seriously affected by the drought. But, since 2006, we have been investing in drought preparedness with the local communities.

And measures – simple measures, like if you have alert that the drought is coming, shrink the livestock to meet the grazing capacity. Get mobile clinics to go around and check on kids. If kids are with signs of malnutrition, treat them early; or take care of invasive species. One of the things – I mean, these are terrible things, the invasives in Africa – and they suck up valuable water. Taking them out creates better conditions. So these simple measures have worked miracles because in Moyale the malnutrition rates among kids are 50 percent below the level in the neighboring Turkana district.

So, yes, measures – investing in disaster-risk reduction works. We made the decision in the commission to invest up to 10 percent of our humanitarian budget in these kinds of measures. Why? Because that’s how we can bring down the costs of the future. But you will ask me then, but how come it’s only in Moyale and not in Turkana?

My take is, there are many reasons for that, but one of the big reasons is that the humanitarian community and the development community don’t work together very well. They kind of look down at each other. One says, we are about speed. The other one says, we are about sustainability. And we don’t translate these kinds of experiences into large-scale programs today. But we must, and maybe austerity would push us into more effectiveness between the two worlds.

I am the ultimate optimist. I kind of take – bad news can be an opening for something good.

MR. KEMPE: I’m sure we’ll come back to this issue as we go along the issue of austerity and where one puts dwindling resources. Ambassador Gelbard, catch my eye if you want to pose a question.

MR. GELBARD: During your talk and before, you raised the issue of the emerging donors. How and what efforts are being made now to try to coordinate with them, and to try to make sure that their assistance – their humanitarian assistance – is truly humanitarian, as well as well-coordinated? One of my concerns, as I mentioned, is that too often I fear some of this assistance can be tied and used for mercantilistic reasons.

MS. GEORGIEVA: We must encourage emerging donors to step up to the plate. When I was World Bank country director in Russia, I worked with Russia on bringing it in multilateral setting. And they actually now contribute quite a lot to the World Bank.

But the way I frame this is new donors, old problems. There is a very strong propensity from emerging donors to go on their own, not coordinate, to pursue political objectives rather than humanitarian or development objectives, or pursue their economic interests as a priority. For fairness, some of the old donors have done some of the same in years past, and it took a long time to improve coordination and coherence.

So I mean, I shared with you an example that may be interesting for the audience. In Somalia today, Turkey has engaged. Of course this is very good. They contribute, I think, over $200 million to the Horn of Africa. But they also –

MR. KEMPE: In total?

MS. GEORGIEVA: In total, yes.

MR. KEMPE: From Turkey, OK.

MS. GEORGIEVA: Just for comparison, we in Europe contribute $1 billion to the Horn of Africa. So when push comes to shove, it continues to be the U.S. and Europe that carry the day, but it is good they are coming through. And yet they are also flooding Mogadishu with Turkish experts, now in the hundreds; to be in the thousands.

They are pushing assistance not necessarily based on needs. We now have in Somalia situations where in some places, needs are met 2(00) to 300 percent, and in some places they are met 20-25 percent. And this is the danger.

So you ask how we can address that. Obviously, the U.N. is the right place. The U.N. is where we need to bring everybody together. But I also think we have a responsibility in Europe and in the United States, especially for countries like Turkey, to collectively reach out to them and say, hey, we don’t want to take the glory from you, but together, of course, we can make a difference and be more effective.

And I think that we are still a bit behind the curve in this kind of consolidated outreach to emerging donors.

MR. KEMPE: Have you tried that with Turkey?

MS. GEORGIEVA: Yes. I am actually meeting the Turkish minister tomorrow in New York. I will visit Turkey. Now, unfortunately, very often people kind of prefer to make their own mistakes and learn from them, but at least we have an obligation to reach out to new donors and do it in a genuine way.

Would that push them in a direction to be focused on humanitarian issues and not on political objectives? We only can learn by trying. And I think we need to lift the bar for the U.N. The U.N. has an obligation to bring us all together for the benefit of people. I’ll stop here, but it is certainly not an issue resolved.

MR. KEMPE: Since we’re on this subject, very quickly – China, other BRICs – can you talk specifically about China or any others where you either see some good or some troubling signs?

MS. GEORGIEVA: On China, China traditionally does not want to acknowledge responsibility as a donor. They say, we have 300 million poor people in China. We are a developing country. We have no responsibility. It is your responsibility. But China, of course, is putting a lot of resources into Africa, mostly loans – not so much grants – soft loans, harder loans.

And China is now starting to appear on the scene when it comes down to humanitarian action. They were present at the conference in Ethiopia, in Addis, on the Horn of Africa. They pledged, I think, 75 million (dollars). Their pledges are well below the economic power of China, and they are very reluctant to talk. But they are not saying no, no, no.

And there are two things that China is recognizing. One is vulnerability to natural disasters, because they themselves are very vulnerable. And I signed an agreement with China to cooperate in natural disaster preparedness and response. And when we had dinner on the occasion of signing this agreement, I said, when I come to China, I actually also want to talk about cooperation in humanitarian aid.

And frankly, I didn’t know what to expect. I actually, to be honest, expected that they would politely let it pass and not respond. But they actually said yes, it would be interesting to have that conversation. So maybe concerns about fragility in the world, concerns about their own investments – it might be a factor to think of a more cooperative approach, but it is not an easy country.

Brazil is more forthcoming. It is easy to talk to Brazil. The problem with Brazil at this point is – not very predictable. Sometimes they’ll do, sometimes they won’t do it. And they tend to prefer in-kind support because they are an agricultural producer – dump agricultural surpluses into the humanitarian pot. But I think that Brazil, being a democracy, more market-minded, then it may be – they may be more of a logical partner.

But here is our problem. We have to have an engagement strategy in which we respect – it is not like our way or the highway – but we respect their role. And that is still not quite on the priority list.

MR. KEMPE: Thank you very much. Questions? Please, Fran Burwell.

Q: Fran Burwell from the Atlantic Council. I’d like you to speak a little bit about the delivery of humanitarian assistance in areas of conflict. You had that great picture up there of the delegation in Yemen, and the guys with the two great daggers in their belts.

The provision of aid, or the denial of aid, can advantage or disadvantage either side, aside from the difficulties of protecting your own workforce and the volunteers. So how did you negotiate with people, or convince them that this is a good thing when they have an advantage or a disadvantage out of that? And also, what are your conditions for when you can do this in conflict and when you cannot?

MS. GEORGIEVA: Well, this is the most worrisome issue – how we deal with conflict situations. Because what we see more and more is warring factions that are not states. They don’t care about international law. Some of them don’t even know there is such thing. And there, the only way we can protect humanitarian workers is by being truly blind to religion, side of the conflict, and provide help to anybody affected in a nondiscriminatory manner.

And humanitarian organizations will tell you that their best protection – their best protection is for communities to feel that they are being helped and for the elders, for the local chiefs, to feel that there is no preference, no discrimination. What we know doesn’t work is to push humanitarian assistance with military means, especially when it is done in exchange for intelligence. And that, unfortunately, sometimes happens.

We even had occasions when the military would say, oh, white cars don’t get bombed. Let’s drive in white cars. And of course, the next thing that happens is that white cars do get bombed. So there is actually a great deal of worry that they are more dangerous places today. And in these more dangerous places, retaining what – the humanitarian community uses the term humanitarian space – retaining this neutrality becomes much more difficult, and access becomes much more difficult to people that need help.

And what the humanitarian community consistently argues is, do not mix military and political objectives with just helping people. And when you do it, when you don’t mix it, then you have a better chance of access. And my experience in Yemen was exactly that.

I mean, the Houthi commanders that I visited – actually, it was a little scary – (laughter) – because we really wanted to get into Houthi-controlled territory, and argued that they should let the Red Cross, Red Crescent come in and help people. At that time they had 150,000 internally displaced people affected by conflict.

So the government in Sanaa, they said no, no, no. But towards the end, we kept saying, no, this is not a political visit. It is just to help humanitarian access. And finally, we are in a kind of a dusty place – finally, a Toyota jeep with a big machine gun and, you know, scary guys on top comes and says, yes, you can come.

So we are driving towards the meeting place truly in a cloud of dust. You see nothing except for the Toyota gunner, the jeep with the gun on top. And we arrive, and we walk in this huge room in which, on one side, are the Houthi commanders – all of them, young and old, with big Kalashnikovs and AKs, very comfortable with their guns. Actually, my picture is a guy having his Kalashnikov down and gently playing with it with his foot, with his toes – (laughter). They’re here, and then on the other side are –

MR. KEMPE: Did he have his safety catch on?

MS. GEORGIEVA: Of course, do you know that? And on the other side are – (inaudible) – me without smiles. That’s it, that’s all we had. (Chuckles.) But when we talked to them – when we said, look, you know, your people need help – you know that – please allow us to help, and we want nothing else – they actually agreed.

And then I went back to Brussels, and three days later, I got a fax with the signatures of the Houthi commanders, saying we will allow access. We will not interfere with who you help, how you design help, and we will provide security for you.

And then Mr. Kellenberger, the president of ICRC, a couple of weeks ago was in my office and says, Kristalina, your Houthis – why are they my Houthis – (laughter) – but your Houthis are delivering. But then we have to stick to this. We are there to help people. We have no other objective but to help, and then prove it.

MR. KEMPE: Please.

Q: Hi, Anne Richard, International Rescue Committee. In describing the response, the international response, you sort of described European responses and American responses as very similar. So when you look at the two sides of the Atlantic, what are the strengths and the weaknesses of the U.S. response to humanitarian crises? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the European side? Is the best way for us to work together to jointly go to the same places, or should we have a division of labor? Thank you.

MS. GEORGIEVA: Where the U.S. has an advantage is the ability to make decisions in a kind of homogeneous manner, whereas we have our 27 member states. And sometimes we have to bring them all on board on an issue on which they are not quite together. And then the U.S. action is more visible. I get criticized by my citizens that U.S. flag waves everywhere. Where is our flag? You know, why is it not waving?

But then, on the other side, the European approach is kind of a soft-power approach. It actually opens up, sometimes, opportunities that perhaps the U.S. approach would not allow. I mean, I don’t want to guess what would have happened if it was the USAID – my counterpart in USAID – going to the Houthi, whether they would have been allowed or not, because there is a political mandate as well. So I actually do believe that we have some differences that are also complementarities in the way we approach problems.

In terms of division of labor, I think that in the complex emergencies we have to come together. A big problem requires a big force. Lean forward, bring the best we can, and together we have a better chance to achieve results. We actually compare notes on big crises. We work together. Our teams meet regularly. We try to be on the same page.

But we have to accept that there may be division of labor, like we are able to deliver some assistance to the kids in North Korea. For the U.S. this is very difficult, not to say impossible. Or Myanmar – I just came back from Myanmar – we delivered some humanitarian and development assistance, strictly focused on livelihoods – whereas for the U.S. the political environment is such that this is more difficult. And rather than trying to, like, force unanimous view, maybe we accept that there are some cases.

I’ll tell you something else. The U.S. has not signed on the International Criminal Court for domestic legislative reasons, not because the U.S. is against the fight against impunity. That may, in some cases, offer an avenue that is closed to the Europeans – take Khartoum. I mean, we are all behind the International Criminal Court. Bashir is indicted. Europeans have a more difficult time to push the levers in Khartoum. There may be a different space there.

But we must remember that together, we are much stronger. You saw the numbers. And together, we have a much bigger drawing power vis-à-vis emerging donors. And we should be careful not to lose this togetherness.

I was told an interesting anecdote. One of the U.S. presidents – and I’m not going to name him – but one of the U.S. presidents, in his first visit to Europe, got a file with all areas of cooperation. And he started deciding to put on top the area where cooperation is best, and it was humanitarian affairs. And I think we should keep this strength for being a force of good around the world.

MR. KEMPE: If you were to point to one concrete place, issue, area to deepen cooperation – U.S. and the EU – what would it be?

MS. GEORGIEVA: To deepen cooperation?

MR. KEMPE: Yeah. One example – if you were to call here for, we really need to work harder on X, or I’m really worried we’re not doing Y.

MS. GEORGIEVA: In terms of fragility points around the world, it would be Sudan, South Sudan, because of the high risk of South Sudan being a newly born failing state. And actually, also Yemen – I think we are all collectively underestimating the importance to engage more with Yemen.

So – as kind of the regional points. In terms of policy issues –

MR. KEMPE: And what should we be doing in those cases together that we’re not doing?

MS. GEORGIEVA: Well, in South Sudan, on the humanitarian side we cooperate quite well. I think the test would be on the development side, on the development cooperation – a more ambitious program for engagement with South Sudan than I think we currently have –
even pushing the IFIs, my former employer, the World Bank, to bring the very best they have in South Sudan. This is a test for all of us we cannot fail. But we may, we may.

MR. KEMPE: And you see it going not as positively –

MS. GEORGIEVA: Somalia, getting – I mean, I actually think – sorry, I should answer your question in the following way. I mean, not all crises are born equal. There are conflicts that are much more significant for the security of the world, and in these places we have to have a much more focused engagement with all instruments, of which humanitarian assistance is one. But sometimes I feel like people expect from us miracles.

I mean, you ask this – how is humanitarian action working? We are there to save lives. This is our mandate. We are not there to make these lives worth living. But we should be thinking of saving lives that are worth living, and this is where I think this kind of focused strategic approach, where we bring in the most – in the toughest places, we have to have our best people and our resources in a forceful way.

MR. KEMPE: And on a policy, you were going to go say about policy –

MS. GEORGIEVA: On the policy side, look, I mean, I am very biased on that. I think it is investment in resilience. We all know that a dollar spent in preparedness has a 4 (dollars) to $7 return. How many investments do you have in your portfolio with this return rate? I have none, I can say that. (Laughter.)

And yet we are not doing it. We are not doing it, and we are not doing it mostly because it is not easy to be done. But unless we change our mindset towards resilience, investment in resilience, the humanitarian cost will continue to go up and up. And that is my obsession on the policy side – is to get, to appoint when we actually make a commitment.

And resilience is resilience to natural disasters; it is also resilience to conflicts.

MR. KEMPE: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, please.

Q: Hello. Samantha Haviser from Grameen Foundation. So you’re talking about all the different kinds of tools, and my interest in resilience is, how do we better partner with development organizations? You know, kind of what is your view on the relationship as it’s progressed over the years? And how do you see it going the next step, that we’re really all tools on the same tool belt working together?

MS. GEORGIEVA: How many of you know Mrs. Ogata? OK, good. Mrs. Ogata was the high commissioner for refugees for two mandates. A fantastic – a Japanese lady, she’s now the head of the Japanese JICA.

In ’99, she finished her mandate, and then she gave a speech in Brookings with my former boss, the former president Wolfensohn, in the chair. And there she talked about the unfinished business, and she put this link between humanitarian action and development as number one.

2001 – sorry, 2011, we haven’t made much progress. Some say it is because it is impossible to bring these two worlds. Their culture is different. Their modus operandi is different. I am somebody who comes from development into humanitarian action, and frankly, I think this is a very poor excuse. Of course it can be done. It is a matter of setting up benchmarks and then following those.

Why is it not happening? My take is because we just rush from one crisis to another to another. We don’t really stop to look beyond what is right here troubling us. We are going to have a meeting today at the World Bank – the first high-level dialogue on humanitarian action and development. Mrs. Ogata will open it. And there, what I hope we will achieve is a commitment of the two communities to come up with benchmarks for joint performance, at least in the 20 to 30 most disaster-prone countries. So stay tuned. (Chuckles.)

MR. KEMPE: Thanks. Thank you very much.

Q: Hi. Thank you for the presentation. I’m Chonali Pai (ph) from Search for Common Ground and I’m also a grad student in conflict resolution.

So I would add on to that, actually, conflict resolution and what the EU is doing in terms of conflict resolution and the link between humanitarian aid and development and conflict resolution, because you talked about resiliencies, and I think conflict prevention and crisis management is also a very important element of that.

So I was wondering how humanitarian aid basically links – or if there is any cooperation, because I know there’s IFS and there’s EIDHR and there’s a lot of work being funded by the EU on the ground, but is there a true link to sort of enhance the effects of all these programs? Thank you.

MS. GEORGIEVA: Very good point. And, of course, of course, it is the other side of resilience to resolve conflicts and prevent conflicts from deepening or occurring.

What we do in our humanitarian work is more focused on helping our humanitarian partners to bring conflict resolution skills, to build up conflict resolution skills and deploy them in conflict situations.

Steffen is here. Steffen, what would that be as part of our operational activities?

I mean, admittedly, not a big part of what we do because our main objective is to save lives. But it is – it is present in our – in our operational work.

MR. : (Off mic.)

MR. KEMPE: Just say one – please –


MR. KEMPE: And if you could also introduce yourself to the audience, too.

MR. : Steffen – Steffen Stenberg. I’m operational director in ECHO, which is the European Commission Humanitarian Office.

The conflict resolution is not necessarily a purpose and objective for us. It’s a byproduct of what we are doing. So what we are doing in the various areas we are working is mainstreaming the conflict resolution by addressing the humanitarian matters through the various agencies and the various players that we have. And through that dialogue, we are actually able to overcome a large number of the conflict that is created by the humanitarian situation. So you could not point to 5 (percent) or 10 percent. It is a question of the work inside the operation that would arrive at the result.

On the – on the other hand, we work very, very closely with the other departments of the European Union in conflict resolution where we actually, together with them, creating their programs in conflict resolution. They’re sending it to us; we – (inaudible) – discussing with them on a daily basis what we think would be the best way of coming around that. So that relationship, we have a very close cooperation, and we jointly would be able to achieve an objective as proposed by the commissioner.

MS. GEORGIEVA: We also have an instrument for stability. It is a flexible funding instrument of the commission. And through it, we also fund – especially in vulnerable – in fragile environments – we fund conflict resolution. I mean, obviously, we learned the hard way in Europe, in our neighborhood, that you don’t address it, people die, societies get destroyed. So – not so – it is not that much a humanitarian; it is actually more of a political objective.

MR. KEMPE: Please.

Q: Charles is my name. I work with Afrimet USA (ph), a Washington-based nongovernmental organization aimed at improving living standards in developing countries in aspect of health, education and the community development.

I’m originally from Cameroon – you know, that part of the world where we watch a lot of disasters. I don’t have a question. What – (inaudible) – I wish to thank all of you sitting here today for the good work you are doing in Africa.

To enhance your work, I heard the commissioner saying of – working with (chairs ?) and the community leaders and the elders. I mean, those are people who are nonpolitical. You know, they are not associated with anything – politics. So by working with them, I think, is a very, very good idea.

And then, secondly, I think it would equally be prudent, you know, to tie philanthropy with (common sense ?). You know, if you involve the community in a kind of business-type of approach – you know, the people will be very, very involved, and I think they’re going to – going to appreciate that. Thank you.

MS. GEORGIEVA: Thank you.

MR. KEMPE: More of a comment than a question.

MS. GEORGIEVA: Thank you. Yes, yes, I really appreciate your comment. And it is good – very good to have sometimes people like you giving us a bit of reality check of what we do or whether we do the right thing. So thank you, sir.

MR. KEMPE: I have a specific question – and I’ll come back to you in a second, then – I – but – that’s humanitarian, but then a larger political question behind it as I see and know that you think in those larger terms in your job.

Libya – it’d be interesting to know the humanitarian impact of the operation. The Commission has opened an office there. And it would be interesting to know what you’re finding and, also, lessons in general regarding democratic transitions and effect on civilians – larger question. NATO is there. EU is there. Are you talking to each other?

And then, in larger sense, again, you come from a country that had, as a north star, the EU and NATO. What is going to be the North Star for these transitioning countries in the Middle East? What role can we play there? Or is it going to be something quite different than the U.S. and Europe?


Well, the – Libya – Libya was, is and will be a very high priority for us because it is in our backyard – it is in our backyard. And it is a country that has been in isolation for so long that, of course, reintegrating in the international community will not be a very easy process.

So just a bit of history: We have committed – we are by far the largest humanitarian donor to Libya: 160 million euros. This is over $200 million – well, with euro going down, maybe under $200 million.

The critical thing we did in Libya was and is to anticipate change in the humanitarian conditions, and we prepared for this change and then act very quickly.

So we went through three stages. First, we faced an unexpected humanitarian crisis at the borders with – in Egypt, in Tunisia, in Algeria. Over 1.2 million people left Libya. Majority of them are not your traditional refugees. These are not Libyans. These are migrant workers who leave, sometimes with only clothes on their backs, and they pile up in – at the borders in Tunisia and in Egypt, potentially creating a major problem for these countries that have problems of their own.

So what we did from the commission was to direct resources to have – to have planes and boats to get these people home. I learned what a small thing a plane is in this process because we have 15,000 people crossing the border and then you have a plane that can take 240. And you have to match those two things. But we actually did manage to move people out safely and decongest these borders.

Then, secondly was the problem with victims of conflict in areas where fighting took place. And there, our big issue was, in Gadhafi-controlled areas, no access. So dealing with this problem was very, very difficult.

And now, today, we have, in this third phase when most of the fighting is over – the humanitarian priorities – and this is why we have a team there – are: help the victims where – there are still a couple of places where fighting continues, help people there; two, make sure that we deal with the ammunition that is spread all over the place that is now loose in the hands of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people; and then, three, protection of especially sub-Saharan Africans that are perceived to be Gadhafi mercenaries, whether they are – they are or they are not – and they really need help, especially those of them who have no documents. And that’s what we focus on.

But then comes the –

MR. KEMPE: Avoiding retribution.

MS. GEORGIEVA: Avoiding retribution. Unfortunately, some of it has taken place. I mean, protection is a very serious issue now. We collectively must work with the new transition government to make sure they respect the rights of civilians. So far, their statements have been encouraging, but then, from the statement of the top to the action at the bottom, you know, there is a long – a long chain.

And then, what we are – I mean, then comes the broader issue of transformation of a country that is not a normally functioning country by any standard. And yet it is a rich country, so not it’s a matter of money; it is a matter of building institutions and capacity.

And you ask me: How is this going to happen? I mean, I look at the – at this country, said, of course, there are similarities with Eastern Europe, but there are also big differences and we have to be mindful of those.

First big difference: huge number of young people – 60 percent of the population under 30. These guys need jobs more than anything else, and jobs that – you know, they have to be also skilled for better jobs.

Second big difference: We had – you called it the northern star. I mean, actually, we had a very big magnet to join the EU – big magnet to do the right thing. What magnet are we going to install there? It has to be trade and opportunities. And it comes at a time when we have hardship at home in Europe, where unemployment in some of our member states has crossed 20 percent – Spain; where investments are needed for small-, medium-sized businesses in Europe, and it would be paramount for us in Europe to think big and think of the future and actually do pay attention to this – to the development in this part of the world.

Where we have an advantage is bringing the collective power of the international financial institutions, including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. We are – now we can switch – and this is where we have to stay together – we can switch its mandate to be geared toward these countries, and they have a lot to contribute from the experience they gained in Eastern Europe.

But if we fail to put a big enough magnet, we will then bear the consequences of what may happen and – (inaudible) – so much like –

MR. KEMPE: Very interesting. We just had a very good session in New York with Dr. Miro (ph) from the ERBD, so that’s a very, very interesting insight.

Saw a question in the back.

MS. : (Off mic.)

MR. KEMPE: Can you wait one second, please? Sorry. Say that again, please.

MS. : I’ll try – (inaudible) – speak loud.

Lali Chania from International Relief and Development. First of all, I would like to thank you, Mrs. Commissioner, for a great work you’re doing. And I think you’re a great role model for many women from Eastern Europe, and I appreciate that.

I wanted to ask you a question about role of NGOs from new member countries, and – because we see a great discrepancy how assistance – they want to be engaged, be part of the greater picture in international assistance. And what are you doing to help them to be part of this program?

MS. GEORGIEVA: Well, thanks for the question.

We – the way we operate in the commission is through partner organizations with whom we have signed partnership agreements. Therefore, they meet our financial requirements for accountability, and they meet a standard for performance that we can be confident about.

We are working very hard to increase the number of organizations from new member states, and we actually – I – as you can imagine, I encourage very much my staff to reach out to organizations in new member states. But we also work with the member states themselves to encourage them to put more money into humanitarian aid and development cooperation so they also can nurture their own skills and capabilities.

And I would say, Czech Republic on the top, then Poland – the new – the Baltic states – the Baltic states are very keen on humanitarian action. There we now have collaboration – we have partnership agreements with organizations and we see them leading in this – in this area because – and, actually, I look at my staff; we have – half of my staff is based outside of Brussels. They’re based in the hot spot areas of the world. And I look at the diversity of this pool as well; I want to make sure that we have Spaniards and French and Dutch but we also have Czechs and Poles and Bulgarians.

So that is that diversity of staff because when you have diversity in your staff – I mean, I know that from the World Bank – then it is much more likely that you will bring the institutions with skills and capabilities from all over Europe.

And thanks for the comment on women leadership. I cannot pass on saying, the World Bank came up with a great report on that. You haven’t gotten it? Get it. (Laughter.)

MR. KEMPE: We’re getting down to the last few minutes, so I see – any other questions? Then I – then I will take the power of the chair one more time.

On Libya, I’d like you to round out – you didn’t touch on the NATO-EU.

MS. GEORGIEVA: Ah, sorry. Yes. Yeah. Yep. Yep.

MR. KEMPE: But also – and then I have one other question after that – but NATO, EU, and in general – you talked about relationship with development organizations, but how about military?

MS. GEORGIEVA: OK. We in the commission cooperate with our EU military staff; through EU military staff, we reach out to NATO. In other words, directly, I don’t talk to NATO. I talk to EU military staff; they talk to NATO. Mrs. Ashton is the one in charge of security and defense. And since I am fiercefully (ph) defending the independence of my humanitarian decisions, equally I don’t step on her territory. It is her job to be leading EU defense policy.

And maybe this is why I kind of didn’t touch on your question, but just to respond: Civil-military cooperation for humanitarian work is very important and we have clear principles which is, civilian oversight and use of military as last resort.

But last resort is that – to be fair, for some of us in the humanitarian community, what is the definition of last resort? Never. (Laughter.) So it’s – and that’s a fact, that’s a fact. And for some of those that are more keen on military engagement, what is the definition of last resort? Always. (Laughter.)

So how we – how we bridge this – how we bridge this is by being very clear on defining what are the conditions. Do they require military contribution?

And this military contribution can be of two types. It can – actually, three types. It can be provision of security. AMISOM in Somalia, the U.N. peacekeepers all over Africa, they provide security much needed for everybody. It can be provision of relief. There are cases when – think of Haiti. In Haiti, U.S. military was absolutely essential to save lives and provide relief. And third, it can be a combination of those two: some security, some relief.

But there is also a fourth case which means no role for the military whatsoever because it will endanger humanitarian workers. It is not well-known fact that more humanitarian workers die every year than U.N. peacekeepers. These – this is one of the most dangerous professions in the world and we owe these people to respect their security and not push military on them unless they say – unless they say so – unless they are convinced that this is the way to go.

MR. KEMPE: OK, so thank you very much, Madam Commissioner. One last question. We’re all watching the euro crisis, biting our nails sometimes – you know, arms, elbows – (laughter). The – it – many see this as an existential crisis, certainly for the currency zone, and perhaps, for the European Union – one of the greatest tests it’s faced since the birth of the Coal and Steel Community. Who knows would have – what would have happened last week had there not been dollar lines opened up by the Fed and several other central banks?

So here’s the question for you. Do you see it in the same way? Is it existential – just as a European citizen, European commissioner sitting with your commission colleagues?

Secondarily, what impact does it have on you and your actions? Do you – do you already see any impact? Could it have an impact on the confidence of the European Union acting externally? The support for the public in providing funds for Greece is limited. Is it also limited for humanitarian assistance during this sort of period of time?

MS. GEORGIEVA: (Chuckles.) It is a difficult moment for us in Europe, no question about it. And it is where we have to come out of it stronger, meaning with stronger decision-making at the community level, stronger economic governance. That is a must for us if we want to strengthen the union and not weaken it, but not an easy advancement because we have sovereignty of national governments, and national governments tend to respond to their public. And the public wants different things. The German public wants less commitment from Germany. The southern states want more commitment from the richer states.

I personally remain optimistic that this crisis will force – it is already forcing measures that were unthinkable before the crisis. The question is speed. Can we act fast enough to bring stability and raise confidence? And the reason it is going to be very difficult is because it has to be done at a time of austerity, which bites, which bites.

Now, I have two income streams. One is in euros; one is in dollars. I can tell you, I’m not converting my euros into anything. I’m holding on them very firmly.

And I think that what in Europe leadership now recognizes is that a strategy that is based on kicking the can down the road can be only effective when, A, there is road left – (laughter) – and B, when you have a can. (Laughter.) And I think – and I would genuinely say that we are now seeing the warning signs of the road and the can.

And it is – and it is a moment that would – any crisis brings the best out of people once you recognize that you’re in it.

Now, on the second part of your question, I don’t know whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, but European people are more willing to help Africa than to help each other – (laughter) – at this moment. But it is because – because – actually, to be serious on this question – because it is a difference between – when it comes down to helping a starving kid versus a middle class that is, you know, not – you know, tight, but not starving, the empathy of our people goes for the – for the starving kids. And Europeans remain – the public remains committed.

I actually – my prediction is that two things are going to happen. We will see much stronger demand from our public on accountability. We already see it. And it is our duty to respond to that. We have to – people need to know that their sacrifice, at a moment of hardship, truly makes the world a better place for our children.

And the second thing we will see is perhaps more difficulty to fund longer-term development.

I think, on a humanitarian crisis, people will come true, young and old. The support for humanitarian action in Europe is quite universal. Even Spain, that is facing tremendous difficulties – it has, as I mentioned, 20 percent – over 20-percent unemployment – the Spanish people want to see us acting in a moment like the famine in the Horn of Africa. So that is still there.

But if we fail to show more accountability, that support may erode in the future. And I worry about that and I want my team to worry about it and I want us to work to provide security for – in the end, not only for people who suffer, but for our kids who must grow in a more stable world.

MR. KEMPE: Thank you. Just in closing, on behalf of the audience, I want to thank Ambassador Gelbard for giving an introduction to you that gave us also a personal taste of who you were – your background, your capabilities, your experiences – which really, I think, prepared us well for what followed.

A woman in the back talked about you as a personal inspiration. I can see why she feels that way. This was an excellent session; I think we got through a lot of important issues. But more than that, we got a taste for your leadership in these issues, and individuals and their energy and their intellect just makes such a difference on the issues that you’re talking about.

We are in a difficult situation right now. We didn’t talk about the U.S. economy, but we’re not without our own difficulties. And at this sort of time, staying focused on our responsibilities in the world is crucial. And because of that, we thank you for taking the time for being with us –

MS. GEORGIEVA: Thank you.

MR. KEMPE: – and for this excellent session. Thank you.

MS. GEORGIEVA: Thank you. Thanks very much. (Applause.)


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