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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: December 2009

6 - Ethical Values and Foreign Policy in Practice: Humanitarian Aid and the European Union


This final substantive chapter of the book examines the role played by the humanitarian aid policy of the European Union in promoting ethical values in its foreign policy. As noted in Chapter 1, humanitarian aid is an ideal litmus test to assess the implementation of a foreign policy which seeks to promote and protect certain values and principles. Poul Nielson, the former Commissioner for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid has stated:

Humanitarian assistance is viewed as a true ‘success story’ of Community external relations, not only by the European institutions but more importantly by the international community. Community humanitarian assistance has indeed become the expression of the values of humanity on which the EU is founded.

The EU is the largest humanitarian aid donor in the world. The theory of humanitarian assistance subscribed to by not only the Union but also organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is one based solely upon need. It should not be influenced by any other interests or geopolitical considerations. As the Preamble to the 1996 Regulation on Humanitarian Aid notes:

humanitarian aid the sole aim of which is to prevent or relieve human suffering, is accorded to victims without discrimination … and must not be guided by, or subject to, political consideration … decisions must be taken impartially and solely according to the victim's needs and interests.

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