On 14 December last year, officials and representatives of international humanitarian organisations, European and US NGOs, ECHO and USAID, met in Madrid on the invitation of Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs, Emma Bonino. The aim of the meeting was to formulate a declaration of commitment and joint appeal to be communicated to Heads of Government and the press. (The full text of the declaration was published in the VOICE newsletter Vol.2.20, dated December 31). What was particularly important was the presence of all major actors in the field of humanitarian relief from both Europe and the US at the same table.
As part of the transatlantic cooperation programme launched by the summit, Ms Bonino and Mr Brian Atwood of USAID undertook a joint mission to the Great Lakes region in an attempt to jointly assess the peace efforts needed. Despite evident attempts to develop a joint strategy in the region, it took considerable time and effort before a joint press statement could be agreed. However, on a more positive note, the summit has resulted in a number of areas of agreement: on the regular exchange of information between the EU and US humanitarian relief agencies and discussions on the adoption of similar future strategies towards NGOs – at the Interaction General Assembly in Washington on 27-28 April, the EU Commission representative extended an open invitation to US NGOs to sign up to the Framework Partnership Agreement with ECHO. As a gesture of goodwill, but not an indication to US NGOs that they can expect the same funding as EU NGOs, ECHO recently agreed 28m ecu for US NGOs for emergency work during 1996.
EU Member States have been more cautious about attempts at improved relations between the EU and US/UN partners, claiming relations with European government departments have been overlooked in the discussions.