European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid: Statement on Iraq

Poul Nielson

European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid: Statement on Iraq European Parliament

Strasbourg, 12 February 2003 - At this crucial time in the effort to achieve the disarmament of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, and when the risk seems to be increasing that he has still not fully understood the need to disarm, I welcome this opportunity to share with you my views of the situation and the role which Europe should play.

What is crystal-clear is that Iraq needs to co-operate more willingly and intensively both in form and in substance with the inspectors, if war is to be avoided. Some encouraging signs of co-operation have emerged recently, as a result of Mr Blix's and El Baradeis' mission to Baghdad during last weekend. We will have more indications on the extent of Iraq's co-operation next Friday when the Chief Inspectors report to the Security Council. We are going to again face a crucial point whether Saddam is ready or not to disarm. If one thing is clear, it is that the situation is unclear. In any case I believe that we have to stick to the inspectors assessment, bearing in mind that war must remain the very last resort.

The preservation of the UN Security Council role, and of the primacy of international law must remain our basis, if we want to maintain a credible system able to guarantee peace and security. The recent resolution voted by the European Parliament expressing its full support to a multilateral approach gave a clear message in this direction.

As confirmed by the recent events, we all know that our Member States have quite diverging views on this issue, and that achieving a common position on this issue is a huge challenge for the EU. In fact the EU looks weaker and more divided than ever. One observation is relevant here: In my view these differences are not the product of some minor institutional inadequacies in the architecture of the EU. We already have a High Representative entrusted with the responsibility of speaking on behalf of the European Union. The differences are honest and real, and therefore demonstrate that a more fundamental change is necessary for Europe to arrive at a truly Common Foreign and Security Policy. This is a moment of truth. Anything short of Qualified Majority Vote will not be a solution. This lesson should be kept in mind in the present institutional and constitutional debate. In any case the need now for internal clarification is strong, and in this regard we welcome the initiative of the Presidency to call for an extraordinary summit next Monday in an attempt to get Europe to speak with one voice.

It is not up to the European Commission to speculate on hypothetical possibilities and the future course of action. Many scenarios are still possible - including the likelihood of a military attack. Yet our major responsibility at this point is to give absolute support to the Security Council and to the Heads of the Inspections. Needless to say that, in parallel, each of us need to work on what to do in case things do not go as we wish.

Let me now turn to some remarks about the humanitarian aspects of the crisis.

The humanitarian situation in Iraq is already precarious after 20 years of degradation deriving from a long war with Iran, followed by the Gulf War and 10 years of international sanctions.

The European Commission through ECHO is the most important external donor to Iraq outside the "Oil for Food Programme" (funded with Iraqi money). Over the last ten years ECHO has provided € 156 million worth of humanitarian aid to the Iraqi population. In June 2002, ECHO approved a Humanitarian Global Plan of € 13 million which focuses on the health and water and sanitation sectors in order to complement the "oil for food" programme. The operations run until this summer.

For 2003, ECHO has earmarked € 15 million to continue this established, 'normal' humanitarian operation in Iraq. It is estimated that over 7 million Iraqi people benefit from ECHO's assistance.

Any eventual military action against Iraq would further worsen the living conditions of the Iraqi people, and in particular of the most vulnerable civilian populations. A military attack risks provoking humanitarian fall-out in the whole region (refugee movements + consequences on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict).

The Commission is going through studies and analysis right now, looking at contingency measures in case of a conflict. ECHO is maintaining very regular and close contacts with all key humanitarian partners and notably with UN agencies (OCHA, UNICEF, UNHCR, WHO, WFP), Red Cross (ICRC and IFRC), and NGOs in the region.

ECHO has recently sent two missions to Iraq and neighbouring countries in order to assess the current humanitarian situation and the security measures of staff and to monitor the preparations by different humanitarian agencies in the event of a conflict in Iraq. This is in order to be able to react quickly to any change in the humanitarian situation. These missions also looked into the security measures envisaged for relief workers and humanitarian operations (evacuation plans, use of WMD NCB)

A strict separation must be maintained between military action and humanitarian assistance to make sure that delivery of aid is possible. Humanitarian assistance has its own rationale and objectives. It is based on the needs of the civilian population and allocated proportionate to need alone. Neutrality/impartiality are crucial for having access to populations and a condition sine qua non for the security of relief workers. Delivery of humanitarian assistance by armed forces or assisted by armed forces is not desirable. It should in any case be closely co-ordinated and decided by the humanitarian organisations which have the necessary mandate, know-how and experience. These are guiding principles for our assessments and for what we might do.