Christos Stylianides, the EU Commissioner-Designate for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, has said he wants to visit the Ebola-affected countries as soon as he takes office, likening the crisis to “a mega natural disaster – it is like a typhoon in slow motion.”
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Stylianides won the praise of fellow MEPs during the hearings of the European Parliament’s Development Committee, while he also got favourable coverage in the media for his “determination, leadership and true commitment to assigned portfolio.”
After three hours and a session of 45 questions and answers, the Cypriot MEP who was only elected in May, left a good impression on his colleagues who continue grilling candidate Commissioners and will give a final vote on October 22.
“The international community underestimated the Ebola crisis and has not responded to it adequately,” said MEP Davor Ivo Stier, EPP Group Spokesman in the EP Development Committee, adding that Stylianides has committed to visiting Western Africa as soon as he assumes duty.
“This is a brave commitment, and would demonstrate EU leadership since Stylianides would be the first international official to visit the Ebola-affected areas. It would also be a strong message from the European Union to countries that have suffered most from this crisis – Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea – that we want to isolate the Ebola virus, but not isolate the countries affected", Stier said.
"The Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management portfolio is a truly demanding one because besides knowledge, it requires immediate reactions, decisiveness, communication skills, commitment, and most importantly, leadership", he said, adding that Stylianides demonstrated all of these traits at his hearing.
Stier emphasised that the Commissioner-designate will have a very difficult task in these times of a growing number of humanitarian crises and decreased funding which will require some tough decisions.
The EU news and policy site EurActiv said that “Stylianides made an excellent impression at his hearing thanks to his commitment, and remarkable resemblance to movie star Omar Sharif.”
It added that in his presentation Stylianides proved his commitment to the field, paying tribute to the current holder of the post, Bulgaria’s Kristalina Georgieva. Georgieva managed to transform this portfolio into a showcase for the benefits of EU action in the world. It also was a launching pad for her future duties as Commission Vice President, EurActive said.
The commissioner-designate also said that his ambition was to work with High Representative Federica Mogherini to address the root causes of conflicts. He repeated many times over the hearing that investing in resilience is more effective than crisis response, and said that each euro invested in resilience saved €7 in emergency aid.
Stylianides said he knew what a crisis situation is, referring to his country, which remains divided after Turkey invaded northern Cyprus in 1974. He said he wanted to be “the spokesperson of the most vulnerable” and “the voice of the voiceless”.
He announced that his first visit would be to visit Western Africa and that Ebola should be addressed as a natural disaster. His words echoed with the Parliament’s Development Committee, with MEPs showing interest in the issue of Ebola, unlike MEPs earlier in the morning, who failed to ask the commissioner-designate for health Vytenis Andriukaitis a single question about it, the EurActiv report added.
Stylianides speaks good English but choose to speak Greek at the question and answers session, which made the exchange somewhat clumsy. Asked about the budget for humanitarian aid, he appeared to indicate that he would seek a derogation to make the emergency response more rapid.
Asked if military presence should be provided to help the work of humanitarian workers, he insisted that he would continue in the footsteps of Georgieva, with humanitarian aid maintaining neutrality and independence. He also said that he is ready “to negotiate with the devil” to get humanitarian assistance to those in need in remote, forgotten areas.
As the hearing was ongoing, VIPs started congratulating Stylianides on his performance. In particular, Georgieva posted a photo of her watching the hearing from her office. She said that he was “speaking from the heart” and called him “strong, convincing”.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM STYLIANIDES’ COMMENTS:
"It is imperative to avoid disruptions in humanitarian aid activities. For that we need a reliable and sufficient flow of payments".
"Ebola should be addressed like a mega natural disaster-it is like a typhoon in slow motion".
"Well over ten million people have been affected by the conflict, nearly 6.5 million-half children-are internally displaced".
"It is unprecedented to have Four simultaneous level-three crises, the highest classification in the UN system".
"Cris management means working on the whole disaster cycle, including prevention and preparedness".
"The world is becoming more fragile because of the increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters".
"Allow me to pay tribute to the humanitarian and relief workers. They risk their lives everyday to help others".
"Humanitarian aid is based on needs, not on political expedience".
"First and foremost, we will continue with our core mandate of providing essential assistance to victims".
"Second, I want to be the spokesperson of the most vulnerable, 'the voice of the voiceless'".
"Third, I will defend the specificities and principles of humanitarian aid".
"Fourth, prevention is better than cure. Therefore, I will continue the work on resilience".
"Fifth, the Ebola crisis is a perfect example of the crucial need for something beyond coordination".
"Sixth, we need to continue protecting the European citizens".
"I will follow the line of my predecessor on the 'comprehensive approach' We are In but Out".
"I will continue to ensure that humanitarian aid is not instrumentalised and humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence are respected"
"My first mission, if confirmed, will be in the areas hit by Ebola. We must be there".