EU humanitarian aid: Caught between nexus and independence

EU humanitarian aid: Caught between nexus and independence

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This brief analyses current issues in the EU’s humanitarian aid and makes recommendations for responding to the challenges ahead. Specifically, it addresses the tensions between the Commission’s ambition to be a geopolitical actor and to better respond to multidimensional crises through a ‘nexus approach’ and the strong needs-based humanitarian assistance the EU provides. The analysis is based on a structured review of academic and policy sources, complemented by interviews with Brussels-based humanitarian aid policymakers.


  • The European Union (EU) is facing increasingly complex and protracted crises, massive humanitarian consequences of conflicts, climate change, and exacerbated humanitarian needs as a result of COVID-19. These challenges require bold and effective responses from the new leadership of the EU. 
  • The European Commission is committed to enhance linkages between humanitarian aid, development, security and other policies to better respond to protracted crises. The implementation of the ‘humanitarian-development(-peace) nexus’ requires the adaptation of institutional cultures and localised approaches as well as drawing lessons from the EU’s nexus pilot countries. 
  • The new European Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič, faces the difficult task of ensuring synergies between his crisis management/civil protection mandate and his humanitarian mandate, especially in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • The sensitive negotiations of the next multiannual financial framework (MFF) 2021-2027 are further complicated by the fallout from COVID-19. This long-term budget will be crucial for shaping the quality and effectiveness of the EU’s humanitarian aid and should provide sufficient and flexible funding for future crises. 
  • Given the EU’s strong focus on its internal interests, tensions could arise between humanitarian needs and other EU priorities and it is crucial that the EU strengthens its commitment to and leadership on humanitarian matters. This requires a more thorough rethink of the role humanitarian aid plays in the EU’s crisis management actions.

Read the full paper here.

Authors: Ina Friesen (DIE), Pauline Veron (ECDPM) and Vera Mazzara (ETTG)

The authors are grateful for the feedback and support provided by Andrew Sherriff (ECDPM), Alfonso Medinilla (ECDPM), Christine Hackenesch (DIE), Niels Keijzer (DIE), Julian Bergmann (DIE), Mark Furness (DIE), Karina Mross (DIE), Bernardo Venturi (IAI), Maria Brozou (ETTG) and Claudia Backes (ECDPM).

Photo courtesy of  European Parliament via Flickr.

The views are those of the author and not necessarily those of ETTG.

EU humanitarian aid: Caught between nexus and independence

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