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.

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Leave.EU is backing a racist President - why aren't more Brexiteers condemning it?

Our own homegrown Trump trumpeters. 

The braver Republican politicians are condemning Donald Trump after he backtracked on his condemnation of far-right protestors in Charlottesville. “You had a group on one side and group on the other,” said the US president of a night in which an anti-fascist protestor was run over. Given the far-right protestors included neo-Nazis, it seems we’re heading for a revisionist history of the Second World War as well. 

John McCain, he of the healthcare bill heroics, was one of the first Republicans to speak out, declaring there was “no moral equivalency between racists and Americans standing up to defy hate and bigotry”. Jeb Bush, another former presidential hopeful, added: “This is a time for moral clarity, not ambivalence.”

In the UK, however, Leave.EU, the campaign funded by Ukip donor Arron Banks, fronted by Nigel Farage, tweeted: “President Trump, an outstanding unifying force for a country divided by a shamefully blinkered liberal elite.” A further insight into why Leave.EU has come over so chirpy may be gleaned by Banks’s own Twitter feed. “It was just a punch up with nutters on all sides,” is his take on Charlottesville. 

Farage’s support for Trump – aka Mr Brexit – is well-known. But Leave.EU is not restricted to the antics of the White House. As Martin Plaut recently documented in The New Statesman, Leave.EU has produced a video lauding the efforts of Defend Europe, a boat organised by the European far-right to disrupt humanitarian rescues of asylum seekers crossing the dangerous Mediterranean Sea. There are also videos devoted to politicians from “patriotic" if authoritarian Hungary – intriguing for a campaign which claims to be concerned with democratic rights.

Mainstream Brexiteers can scoff and say they don’t support Leave.EU, just as mainstream Republicans scoffed at Trump until he won the party’s presidential nomination. But the fact remains that while the official Brexit campaign, Vote Leave, has more or less retired, Leave.EU has more than 840,000 Facebook followers and pumps out messages on a daily basis not too out of sync with Trump’s own. There is a feeling among some Brexiteers that the movement has gone too far. "While Leave.EU did great work in mobilising volunteers during their referendum, their unnecessarily robust attacks and campaigning since has bordered on the outright racist and has had damaged the Brexit cause," one key Leave supporter told me. 

When it comes to the cause of Brexit, many politicians chose to share a platform with Leave.EU campaigners, including Labour’s Kate Hoey and Brexit secretary David Davis. Some, like Jacob Rees-Mogg, get cheered on a regular basis by Leave.EU’s Facebook page. Such politicians should choose this moment to definitively reject Leave.EU's advances. If not, then when? 

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.