Project Background

The Raising the Bar Project was largely funded through the European Commission’s pilot program “Transatlantic Methods for Handling Common Global Challenges”. This program seeked to support enhanced cooperation and mutual learning across the Atlantic in a variety of pressing policy arenas and intends to generate concrete policy recommendations for the 2010 EU-US summit. Raising the Bar focused on European and American approaches to humanitarian action as an imminently important field of transatlantic cooperation.

Far from being local events with only local effects, most natural disasters today create truly transnational problems. Beyond a shared desire to help, the transatlantic partners face a range of common challenges when natural disasters in developing countries merge with chronic poverty, armed conflict and political instability to create ‘complex emergencies’. Additionally, natural disasters have the potential to create pandemics and migrant flows, to disrupt international financial markets and exacerbate armed conflicts. With many ‘weak states’ being particularly vulnerable to the effects of a potentially rising number of natural disasters due to climate change, the incidence and scope of natural disasters and complex emergencies is likely to grow in coming years.  As a result, Europe and North America are increasingly challenged to deal with them.

Currently the international humanitarian community is debating how to reform the humanitarian sector in order to be able to respond effectively to these challenges. Being the two biggest donors of humanitarian aid, the EU and the US should spearhead the humanitarian policy debate by developing a shared transatlantic vision of managing disasters, and by promoting reform at the bilateral as well as at the multilateral levels. This vision should especially place weight on dealing more adequately with funding gaps in humanitarian assistance, increasing the operational effectiveness and efficiency of implementing agencies and more actively supporting emergency preparedness and disaster risk reduction.

Both the EU and the US have already developed a number of strategies and doctrines to cope with the challenges of humanitarian action in a rapidly globalizing world: they are trying to more effectively link their respective relief, rehabilitation, and development (LRRD) measures; they are increasingly cooperating with new partners, for instance with the military and business; and they have supported various initiatives to increase the humanitarian performance of both donors and implementing agencies

Yet, despite these important activities and significant experiences in disaster relief and preparedness on both sides of the Atlantic, the related discussions often seem to run in parallel without coming together to weave a genuine transatlantic strategic dialogue. While important efforts at enhanced donor coordination have been made, there remain significant political and conceptual differences relating to humanitarian policy on both sides of the Atlantic. To improve the effectiveness of responses to humanitarian crises, it is critical to foster increased cooperation at headquarter and field levels and to support the systematic exchange of best practices and lessons learned.

Raising the Bar seeked to contribute to these goals and to generate a concrete action agenda for the 2010 EU-US summit by conducting research and organizing a multi-stakeholder conference series, the Transatlantic Dialogues on Humanitarian Action. The program pursued three objectives:

  • To provide an in-depth analysis of the current state of the humanitarian policy debate and the relevant institutional setup as well as decision-making processes in the EU and the US, especially relating to four key topics in current humanitarian action.
  • To compare doctrines, funding principles, programs, and geographical and sectoral priorities of the EU and the US and propose specific areas where these principles and priorities can be made more complementary.
  • To foster a transatlantic multi-stakeholder dialogue on humanitarian policies, bringing together EU and US policy-makers, representatives of think tanks, NGOs, academia and the private sector.