Guided by the Red Cross EU strategy 2022-2027, we continue to work with our members to engage with the EU to safeguard and respond to the needs of people experiencing vulnerability in the face of new and evolving crises.
Among the key challenges of 2023, armed conflicts with serious breaches of International Humanitarian Law underlined the need to maintain efforts to promote and defend principled humanitarian assistance. The year was also marked by difficult negotiations on the EU Pact for Migration and Asylum – the set of rules aiming to reform the asylum system across Europe – and important discussions around revising the EU’s Multi-annual Financial Framework to ensure it remains fit for purpose.
The ongoing cost-of-living crisis forced many more families into energy poverty and posed growing difficulties in making ends meet for National Red Cross Societies as social economy actors. At the same time, the EU’s expanding role on health provided opportunities for the Red Cross to share its extensive expertise and contribute to discussions around new EU policies and structures in 2023. Finally, we closed the year by marking the important milestone of the Red Cross EU Office’s 40th anniversary.
Promoting protection and dignified reception
Drawing from their broad experience working with migrants, our members have long been engaged in influencing negotiations around the EU Migration Pact, which culminated in the political agreement reached between co-legislators in December. We followed the discussions closely throughout the year, regularly informing and supporting our members so they could approach their authorities to voice joint recommendations, while we liaised with decision makers in Brussels. We have been calling on all stakeholders to secure access to protection for those in search of safety and will continue to urge that the reform is concluded in a spirit of humanity in the coming months.
During 2023, we also supported the implementation of Safe Homes – a programme on the private hosting of people displaced from Ukraine led by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Secretariat. Private hosting initiatives helped respond to the challenge of finding accommodation for large numbers of people in a short period of time. Red Cross societies in nine EU countries were part of this pilot, contributing to the sourcing, matching, safeguarding, and nurturing of relationships between hosts and guests. The experience from this project has provided rich learnings on the opportunities, challenges and limitations offered by private hosting initiatives.
Exposing the effects of the cost-of-living crisis on people already at risk
In recent years, the number of people experiencing energy poverty has risen significantly. After more than three years of COVID-19, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine international armed conflict has aggravated an already fragile economic context. Increased food and commodity prices, coupled with the lack of investment in social and health services in Europe over the last decade, are forcing more and more people into making difficult decisions about their energy spending. In response, European Red Cross societies have increased and adapted their support to individuals and households experiencing poverty. However, their work is also directly impacted by increasing running costs.
In 2023, we aimed to increase visibility and understanding at EU level of the impacts of the cost-of-living crisis on the people at greatest risk of social exclusion. During a roundtable at the European Parliament, we discussed the consequences of rising food prices and a growing demand for food aid on the operational capacities of not-for-profit social service providers. We also worked with members to define recommendations towards the EU and Member States on responding to the cost-of-living crisis to protect European households from further socio-economic hardship and to assist organisations like the Red Cross who are providing crucial support.
Prioritising health in the EU agenda
In context of the COVID-19 pandemic a beyond, health has become an integral part of the EU’s internal and external action. The EU and Member States have stepped up cooperation to tackle health inequalities, and to prevent and respond to health threats both within the EU and globally. Our members have a long-standing role in delivering a wide range of community health services across Europe. Many are also involved in supporting health programming in third countries, including with EU financial support.
During 2023, we stepped up our collaboration with members to position the Red Cross as a key stakeholder and strengthen our humanitarian diplomacy on health at EU level. For instance, we organised a launch of the IFRC’s World Disasters report, which offers six essential actions to prepare better for future health emergencies. We also stressed the importance of addressing mental health, reducing health inequalities, and tacking the double crises of health and climate change together at various fora throughout the year, while supporting the implementation of an EU4Health programme that supports the Red Cross to provide in-person mental health and psychosocial support services in Ukraine and 24 European countries.
Marking 40 years of working together at EU level
We closed the year celebrating 40 years since the Red Cross EU Office was first set up. On this special occasion, we brought together members to reflect on the important role they play in shaping EU policies and programmes. These last four decades, we have worked to safeguard and respond to the needs of people and communities experiencing vulnerability in partnership with the EU. “After 40 years of the Red Cross EU Office, our work remains as relevant as it was on the first day,” said Mette Petersen, RCEU Director.
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