EU chief Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday vowed to boost humanitarian aid to Afghanistan as she pledged the 27-nation bloc stands “by the Afghan people.”
“We must do everything to avert the real risk that is out there of a major famine and humanitarian disaster,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said in her annual State of the European Union address.
“We will do our part, we will increase again humanitarian aid for Afghanistan by 100 million euros,” she added.
The new promise comes after the European Commission – the EU’s executive – already quadrupled its humanitarian aid to Afghanistan for this year to 200 million euros ($236 million) as the country struggles to stave off collapse after the Taliban’s takeover.
Brussels has said that none of the aid will go to Afghanistan’s new rulers and has demanded the Taliban ensure access for humanitarian workers in the country.
Von der Leyen said the EU would set out in full its “new, wider Afghan support package” in the coming weeks.
The EU is worried a humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan could spark a mass wave of refugees heading to the bloc, similar to the 2015 migrant crisis caused by the Syrian war.
The bloc has set out a raft of conditions on increasing its direct engagement with the Taliban including protecting human rights, allowing people to leave the country, and forming an inclusive government.
An international donor conference in Geneva on Monday ended with pledges of $1.2 billion in aid for Afghanistan, as United Nations chief Antonio Guterres pleaded that the people “need a lifeline.”
As this developed, Von der Leyen said Europe will seek to boost its own military capacity after the collapse of the US-backed government in Afghanistan.
“It is time for Europe to step up to the next level,” she said.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron will convene the “summit on European defense” during France’s six-month presidency of the bloc, starting at the New Year, she said.
Paris has been leading the push for the 27-nation union to develop more autonomous military capacities alongside the Western alliance, which is traditionally led by the US.
And the rapid collapse of Afghanistan’s government at the end of the 20-year-old US-led mission in Afghanistan has intensified debate in Brussels about the EU’s role.
But most EU nations are also members of the NATO alliance and some, particularly eastern states more exposed to threats from Russia, do not want to undermine ties with the United States.
“Witnessing events unfold in Afghanistan was profoundly painful for the families and friends of fallen servicemen and servicewomen,” von der Leyen said.
“We have to reflect on how this mission could end so abruptly. There are deeply troubling questions that allies will have to tackle within NATO. But there’s simply no security and defense issue where less cooperation is the answer.”