The Ebola crisis is putting tremendous pressure on West African states, threatening to cause food shortages, social frictions and undermining already fragile state institutions that risk turning back the clock on development progress. This is a pivotal moment for the EU to provide an adequate and comprehensive answer – but it is simply not yet delivering enough.
The ever expanding Ebola crisis featured prominently on the agenda of this week’s European Council summit in Brussels. During the past few weeks, increased efforts have been made by EU institutions to provide an EU-wide response, reflected in the establishment of the Ebola Task Force within the Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC), hosted by the EU’s Directorate for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (DG ECHO), which is holding daily operational meetings and facilitating information sharing and coordination of the humanitarian response, including by individual EU Member States.
Progress Has Been Made….
Since March 2014, the EU has steadily increased its efforts to address the Ebola virus outbreak. Almost EUR 12 million was allocated to partners on ground to address the most urgent humanitarian needs, including the WHO, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC). Humanitarian experts have been deployed as well as a humanitarian airlift, operated by ECHO. Individual member states have also ramped up their efforts to provide much needed equipment. The European Commission together with EU Member States have provided a total contribution that so far amounts to over EUR 616 million.
But is it Enough?
The EU’s Foreign Affairs Ministers as well as the European Parliament were increasingly calling for a more robust response this week, as the crisis shows no sign of abating. During the European Parliament’s plenary debate on Monday 20 October, MEP’s called for a much more coordinated response to the Ebola crisis, including through the EEAS’ Crisis Platform. Dutch MEP’s Gerbrandy and Schaake lamented the lack of effective response, and called on Heads of Governments to provide a clear mandate to the EU for an effective and coordinated response (only available in Dutch). Germany’s foreign affairs chief Frank-Walter Steinmeier called for an EU civil military mission to the affected areas, while his UK counterpart Philip Hammond asked for Member States and the European Commission to raise the financial contribution to €1 billion.
Ministers of Foreign Affairs recognised the need for a united, coordinated and increased effort to contain the outbreak during their meeting on Monday and invited the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) to enhance their cooperation, tasking them to “present options with regards to all available tools at the EU’s disposal”. The EEAS earlier drafted proposals for an EU wide response, including military coordination. A draft Commission/EEAS EU Comprehensive Response Framework for the Ebola Virus Outbreak is also being circulated; on Monday foreign affairs ministers urged finalising this draft. Also on Monday, Cathy Ashton, the outgoing EU’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs (HR/VP) announced Terms of Reference were in the making to appoint a EU Ebola Coordinator, “to ensure the most effective engagement between the European Union, Member States and the United Nations.”
On Thursday, the incoming head of DG ECHO, Commissioner Stylianides, was appointed as EU Ebola Coordinator, to be assisted by the ERCC. He will not only lead to response beyond the EU’s borders, as of November 1st, but he is also expected to coordinate actions within Europe, together with the Commissioners for Health and Migration. Previously, EU Member States’ Health ministers agreed to co-ordinate efforts to check for the deadly Ebola virus at EU airports, with a common EU Protocol. Even before his appointment, his task included increasing cooperation between EU member states’ civil-protection agencies to avoid duplication and make responses to crises more comprehensive. EU Member States made additional commitments which will boost the EU’s financial contribution to EUR 1 billion and committed to increase the deployment of medical staff in the region.
Why a Truly ‘Comprehensive Approach’ in Urgently Needed
For the time being, an operational strategy making best use of all EU and EU member states assets to address threat posed by Ebola is still in the making. The European Think Tank Group, in its most recent report, has squarely pointed at these coherence gaps within Europe to address global problems, highlighting that Europe holds all the building blocks for effective external action, but that they are just not adding up, nor are they equal to the sum of their parts.
The EU’s response capacity to such a crisis is seriously hampered by a fragmented institutional set-up, which prevents comprehensive and swift action – which we highlighted in our recent op-ed for DEVEX. The deadly virus is out of control and is becoming a very serious threat to security, political stability and economic life in the region. This requires a different level of response – including coordinated European action that provides military assets and logistics. At this point, it is unclear how the newly appointed Ebola Coordinator will address the longer-term aspects of the Ebola crisis, which will require resilience measures, and coordination with his colleague Mimica, the incoming Commissioner for Development Cooperation. There is some hope for enhanced cooperation and political leadership in the clustered approach in the new Juncker Commission.
The Ebola crisis painfully highlights where this can lead to – a slow and fragmented approach where it matters most, namely on the ground. This week, the number of deaths rose to over 4,550 while prospects for vaccines are only envisioned for early January. The WHO predicts however that by December this year we will be faced with an infection rate of 5,000 to 10,000 infections per week. Scientists continue to warn the response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is too slow.
The views expressed here are those of the authors, and not necessarily those of ECDPM
Photo courtesy of European Commission DG ECHO