A camp for internally displaced people in Syria. The EU may soon have to cut its humanitarian aid to Syria. Photo:Getty.
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Why aren’t EU states delivering on their humanitarian aid pledges?

The EU is the world’s largest humanitarian donor, and it is facing a funding gap of almost half a billion euros.

The EU is the world’s largest humanitarian aid donor, funding over 50 per cent of humanitarian aid projects. It is currently facing a worrying funding crunch, with the Guardian reporting it is facing a €480m shortfall. Unless member states respond quickly by releasing funds, this means the EU will have to make further cutbacks to its projects, may have to lay off staff and will be less able to respond to new emergencies. So what has gone wrong?

The EU humanitarian fund was already €130m in the red at the start of 2014, having overspent last year, and it is responding to an almost unprecedented number of high-level emergencies at the same time: the civil war in Syria, violence in the Central African Republic and South Sudan, and the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

The other problem is that there is a gap between what EU member states have pledged in aid, and what they have actually delivered to date. Member states are reluctant to fund EU aid projects when they face public spending squeezes at home.  The resources director of the EU’s humanitarian aid directorate (DG Echo), Walter Schwarzenbrunner, told the Guardian he needs to receive another €400m, with €150m arriving before the summer to avoid “real crisis”. He has already made cuts to humanitarian relief to the drought-prone Sahel, and unless this money arrives by July, Schwarzenbrunner believes they will have to cut back on life-saving projects in priority areas, including Syria, CAR and South Sudan.

The global recession might have dampened support for humanitarian aid projects among Europeans who feel they want to see the money spent at home, but a recent survey found that 8 out of 10 EU citizens still believe humanitarian funding is important (although one in four would rather more of this funding was directed through individual member states rather than the EU). 

They are right, too. For a start there’s a strong moral imperative to support victims of natural disasters or war. But if you prefer to take a more pragmatic (or cynical) approach to international affairs there’s a strategic case to be made for humanitarian aid: it is a powerful source of “soft power”, a tool for diplomacy and a way of projecting values such as respect for human rights overseas. Humanitarian aid can promote stability and security, too. At a time when the EU’s foreign policy response to crises like Syria and Ukraine has exposed the bloc as weak, indecisive and short-sighted, decisive action on humanitarian funding is even more important. 

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

Gerald Wiener
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From the Kindertransport to Dolly the Sheep: a New Statesman subscriber's story

Gerald Wiener's life has now been turned into a biography. 

In 1997, Gerald Wiener, an animal geneticist, gathered with a group of friends in Edinburgh to celebrate the cloning of Dolly the sheep by one of his former colleagues. He was a respected scientist, who had contributed to the developments in research which led to this ground-breaking development – and a New Statesman reader.

It could have been very different. Gerald was born Horst, on 25 April 1926, to a German Jewish family. Raised in Berlin by his mother, Luise, he grew up under the shadow of the Nazi regime. He was forced out of his school, and left increasingly alone as friends and family fled to the United States and Britain. After Kristallnacht, when Nazis looted and vandalised Jewish-owned businesses, his mother was desperate for her son to escape. She managed to get him included in the last-ditch organised rescue of German Jewish children, which became known as the Kindertransport. At twelve, Wiener arrived in the UK, alone.

For many years, Wiener did not talk much about his past in Germany. Instead, he embraced a new life as a British schoolboy, and later travelled the world as a scientist. But when he met his second wife, the teacher and writer Margaret Dunlop, she began noting down some of his stories. Eventually she encouraged him to share so many details it has become a book: Goodbye Berlin: the biography of Gerald Wiener.

“I was moved by some of the stories, like his mother putting him on a train in Berlin,” Dunlop tells me when I call the couple at their home in Inverness. “I thought - what a terrible thing.”

“I rejected Germany totally for a long, long time,” Wiener, now 91, says. His mother, with whom he was reunited after she also managed to escape to Britain, threw herself into a wartime career as a nurse. “I had one friend from my school days in Berlin, and he was more like a sort of brother to me, but they also left Germany way behind.”

It was during this period of his life that Wiener first picked up a New Statesman. He spent the war years in Oxford, mentored by the Spooner cousins Rosemary and Ruth, related to William Spooner, who gave his name to the speech error.

Then, in the 1960s, his work took him to Germany, where he met fellow researchers. “They all detested the Hitler years,” he recalls. “I started feeling they are no different to me. I no longer felt bitter about Germany.” 

Still, the Nazis' atrocities had left Wiener almost completely without family. He lost his grandfather, aunt and uncle in the Holocaust. His paternal family fled to the United States. By the time Wiener found them again when taking up a fellowship to study in the US in 1956, his father, who survived the concentration camps, had died of a heart attack.

The next decades were spent patching his family together, and also reclaiming a connection to Germany. Wiener’s half brothers, who were born in Shanghai continue to visit. His American nephew, who works in the music industry, has a German girlfriend and lives in Berlin.

Wiener, too, went back to Berlin. In the early 1990s, the city invited former refugees to visit the city, all expenses paid. With some reservations, Wiener and Dunlop took up the offer. “It was quite exciting to go and see places that had been in my childhood,” he says. He also found the old people's home his grandfather had sought refuge in, before being taken by the Nazis.

Meanwhile, his career was taking him around the world, from India to North Korea. His belief in academic collaboration helped to build the momentum for the Roslin Institute, whose scientists eventually cloned the sheep known as Dolly. 

Wiener, who votes Liberal Democrat, wanted to remain in the EU, and he feels “very angry” that 48 per cent of voters have been ignored.

He adds: “I would be surprised if there was a single university or college who was in favour of Brexit.”

As for another of the great challenges of the present, the refugee crisis, Wiener feels a deep empathy for those living in wartorn regions. “Obviously I feel very, very sympathetic to refugees from more or less wherever,” he says. He sees the current German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who acted decisively on this matter, as “a bit of a beacon”. At the same time, he believes that in order to fully integrate, refugees must make learning English a priority. “When I go down the street, and I hear people who still don’t speak English, that is the one thing that upsets me,” he says.

If Wiener, a successful scientist, is an example of how Britain can benefit by continuing to offer sanctuary to the world’s desperate, there is, however, a dark undertone to his integration. As a teenager, he knew there was no way back to the Berlin of his childhood. “There was no young generation,” he says of that time. “There was no future.”

Goodbye Berlin is published by Birlinn Books.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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