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October 07, 2011
Bulgaria’s EU Commissioner Talks Crisis Management at AUBG

On Thursday, Sept. 29, the Andrey Delchev Auditorium at AUBG’s Balkanski Academic Center brimmed with students and professors from AUBG and South-West University, as well as representatives from national and local media. The fervently anticipated guest was Bulgaria’s EU Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, 2010 European of the Year and former vice president of the World Bank. Georgieva was the eleventh high-profile participant in the Ambassador Elena Poptodorova Distinguished Lecturers series.

Georgieva, who is in charge of the International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response portfolio at the European Commission, talked about the two main causes of humanitarian crises – natural disasters and social turmoil. The fragile socio-economic framework of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia-Pacific, and Central America, she claimed, was shaken by explosive revolutions and high tides of famine, earthquakes, epidemics, floods, and droughts. The great economic powers were not immune to such calamities either, as the fresh examples of Japan, the United States, and Australia show.

Climate change, the population boom (the 7 billion mark may soon be crossed, Georgieva pointed out), urbanization, and the large number of failed states (a state that has failed to meet the basic criteria of a sovereign government) all serve to undermine world stability. By 2011, the chain reaction of failing states included countries like Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Haiti, Afghanistan, the Ivory Coast, Yemen, and Nigeria.

“Here is where the EU Commission comes in,” Georgieva declared. What distinguishes the EU from U.S. humanitarian aid, she went on, is that it has special supranational organizations that provide relief, regardless of political interests, and one of those is the European Commission. Its so-called Civil Protection policy allocates resources to disaster-stricken areas in both EU member and non-EU states.

Commissioner Georgieva pinpointed six hotspots of 2011 that were in dire need of humanitarian relief. North Korea was a tough nut to crack, she admitted. U.S. funds were rejected and only with great perseverance was the EU Commission able to provide assistance. Myanmar, a country in self-imposed isolation and bristling with ethnic conflicts, also took long to open up to aid. The central government of Yemen had displaced large groups of people, and was running out of water supplies when the EU came to its rescue. Georgieva made a point of the importance of neutrality when dealing with governments of similar countries. “We are humanitarians, not political people,” she remarked.

Libya was a case in point, she stated. Military intervention had to be reduced and political passions left aside in order for humanitarian help to be delivered. South Sudan, the youngest country on the African map, is considered to be a failing state by Georgieva. However, despite corruption in the government, the Commission has made sure that its aid reached people in need.

The most dramatic crisis hit the Horn of Africa with countries being haunted by both natural disasters and political disorder, Georgieva said.

Responding to various questions, Georgieva expressed her optimism about the future distribution of humanitarian aid to the needy. She emphasized the importance of sustaining funding in the long run as well as helping developing and affected states restore their systems to normality. She declared that no political interests or nationality issues could cloud the Commission’s judgment – their only aim was to reach the common people. Georgieva concluded that she felt proud both as a Bulgarian and a European of the Commission's work, and that she was hopeful about Europe’s opening up to poor countries "because only bigger and stronger we can play a bigger part."

Story by Yoana Savova
Photos by Yanita Mircheva and Alexander Acosta Osorio