MEPs say Europe 'must not get bogged down in budgeting' in fight against Ebola

Christos Stylianides, commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management, has spoken to parliament's development committee about his recent visit to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

By Julie Levy-Abegnoli

18 Nov 2014

The EU coordinator on Ebola described his trip to the three countries that remain most affected by the disease as "an overwhelming experience", he said it allowed him to see "first-hand on the ground the problems and the needs [and feel] the gravity of the situation".

He stressed that "it is essential to continue to be on alert under any circumstances" and furthermore, "we cannot let fear dictate our actions".

The commissioner explained that his aim is to "isolate Ebola, not the people of the affected countries". However, he warned "the recovery process will be difficult and will take time".

He praised several member states for the work they have been doing on the ground, saying he is "pleased with how France is stepping up its role" in Guinea, and that the UK's work in Sierra Leone is "remarkable".

He also congratulated Sweden on becoming "the first country to offer a medical team through ERCC [emergency response coordination centre]".

"My immediate priority is first and foremost to follow up on the findings of my mission, going through a checklist of what is needed, seeing how we could facilitate rapid deployments" - Christos Stylianides

The Cypriot official was most appreciative of the aid workers currently deployed on the ground, describing them as "the real heroes in the battle against Ebola".

Stylianides said "one main conclusion is the need to distinguish between the three countries", seeing as "the epidemic has evolved in different ways in the different countries [and] as a consequence we need to adapt our European response".

According to the commissioner, in Sierra Leone "there is an urgent need for more medical personnel and medical centres - not in three weeks' time, but now". While "the structure in place to coordinate and manage the response is sound and effective", the number of Ebola cases has been increasing.

In Liberia, the amount of reported cases has gone down in recent days, but Stylianides highlighted "the punctually encouraging trends of the past weeks should not lead us to underestimate the situation", explaining that "the virus may have become mobile and we need to adapt our response".

In Guinea, "the picture […] is more complex", because while the country has not been as affected by Ebola as its neighbours, the number of reported cases is on the up and "outbreaks are spread over a very large area".

The commissioner said his "immediate priority is first and foremost to follow up on the findings of [his] mission, going through a checklist of what is needed, seeing how we could facilitate rapid deployments".

"If we were to fail because of lack of funding, then we will pay a high price for that" - Charles Goerens

He promised to "continue to work very closely with all our member states to coordinate our action", as well as keeping members of parliament "timely informed" in order to receive their "valuable feedback".

Charles Goerens, parliament's rapporteur on the EU's response to Ebola, paid "tribute to those who are on the ground and risking their lives to help other people while working under very difficult circumstances".

He pointed out that "if we were to fail because of lack of funding, then we will pay a high price for that". The Luxembourgish deputy believes the EU is "quite capable of dealing with this and we'll have to be very clear in talking to the member states to say what is and isn't sufficient - there is no excuse to let things drag on".

Goerens told the commissioner, "the chain of command starts with you" and warned that parliament "will point the finger at those who are not willing to apply the measures that you deem to be necessary".

He urged Europe to "aim higher than the official needs, well above what has been defined as the needs", saying we must "not get bogged down in accounting and budgeting".

Davor Stier said it is important to keep EU citizens informed on the battle against Ebola, especially with the help of the media, but that a European communication strategy should not be "commanded by fear or panic, but by facts and information".

Norbert Neuser, S&D spokesperson on international development, agreed that "communication must be improved".

He criticised "the vague outcome of the G20 summit", saying "we lack a concrete action plan with the establishment of a global fund that addressed the specific needs to combat the current crisis".

"If we don't have something similar to the Marshall plan for all three areas, the economic recovery of [the countries affected by Ebola] won't be easy" - Christos Stylianides

Enrique Guerrero Salom, a vice-president of parliament's S&D group and rapporteur on humanitarian aid, stressed Europe "must be much faster in [its] response and be as intelligent as the virus".

Nirj Deva, a vice-chair of parliament's development committee, pointed out "this is a global issue, we are all in it together".

Linda McAvan, chair of parliament's development committee, said "we in this committee need to keep this issue alive".

Commissioner Stylianides promised to "meet with all commissioners immediately involved with the issue" straight away.

He explained that because of Ebola, "the entire fabric of [affected countries'] economies has been destroyed", saying "if we don't have something similar to the Marshall plan for all three areas, the economic recovery of these countries won't be easy".

The European commission has announced additional funding of €29m to help fight Ebola.

€17m will be allocated to transporting aid supplies and equipment to affected countries, as well as evacuating infected aid workers to hospitals in Europe and training and sending out additional health workers. The rest of the money - €12m - will be used to assist neighbouring countries of those affected by the virus.

 

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