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Living apart together: EU development cooperation and humanitarian aid in situations of fragility and protracted crisis

Discussion Paper 206

December 2016

Medinilla, A., Herrero Cangas, A., Deneckere, M. 2016. 'Living apart together': EU development cooperation and humanitarian aid in situations of fragility and protracted crisis. (Discussion Paper 206). Maastricht: ECDPM.

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The complexity of today’s crisis situations brings humanitarian and development actors more and more on each other’s turf. Protracted crises require longer humanitarian interventions, including activities such as basic service delivery, livelihood support and social protection. At the same time, development cooperation is increasingly framed by a ‘societal’ resilience narrative, be it in the Sustainable Development Goals or in the EU’s ambitions to address the root causes of vulnerability, fragility and conflict.

In recent years, the EU has seen an unprecedented migration and refugee crisis in the wider EU neighbourhood. The humanitarian emergency and EU response that has ensued has accelerated a forced convergence between humanitarian and development actors. The former focus on providing short-term assistance, while the latter – influenced by the EU’s security policy – seeks to address the root causes of migration, through short-term interventions, hoping for quick results.

The EU response to this crisis also illustrated the link between internal and external policies of the EU. It is unclear how this link will be addressed by the institutions, and whether they will adopt a humanitarian or a development approach – also within the European Union’s territory.


Key messages


  • The nature of today’s crisis situations blurs the lines between humanitarian aid and development cooperation more than ever before. Humanitarian crises and emergencies last longer and have become increasingly complex and volatile, putting the traditional distinction between humanitarian aid, short-term relief and longer-term development to the test.
  • The EU has increasingly sought to reconcile humanitarian aid and development cooperation as part of an overall external action narrative introducing concepts as LRRD and resilience. In 2016, the EUGS illustrated the strong commitment at the political level to ensure greater coherence as part of a stronger and more purposeful EU external action.
  • The implementation of these policies, however, has lagged behind and is faced with both conceptual and operational barriers that make it difficult to effectively reconcile the EU’s humanitarian aid and development cooperation. Overcoming this requires a more thorough revision of the institutional architecture and possibly a diversification of the EU’s emergency response, relief and humanitarian aid operations.
  • The years 2017-2020 will be crucial. Political and organisational changes such as the revision of the European Consensus on Development, the review of the EU’s External Financing Instruments and the expiry of the Cotonou Agreement are important opportunities for the EU to back the ambition of a truly joined-up approach, with an external financing and aid architecture that is fit for purpose.

Read also: Revisiting EU assistance in crisis situations: what place for humanitarian aid?


Read Discussion Paper 206


Download (PDF, 1.69MB)


Photo: Humanitarian aid in Pakistan. Credits: DVIDSHUB via Flickr.

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European external affairsEU AidDiscussion Papers (series)FragilityHumanitarian aid