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World

Senior EU Official Asks Arab States To Help Fund Relief For Refugees

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

As Europe struggles with the massive influx of migrants, a senior figure in the European Union has urged Arab states to contribute more to the support of refugees, many of whom are fleeing the Middle East. Kristalina Georgieva is a European Union vice president in charge of budget and human resources. She's a former World Bank economist from Bulgaria. She's also co-chair of a United Nations panel on financing humanitarian activities. And she joins us in the studio. Welcome.

KRISTALINA GEORGIEVA: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: Isn't Europe a wealthy enough continent to help support people fleeing Syria or Eritrea? Most of them want to get to Germany anyway.

GEORGIEVA: Of those that come from conflict zones, a vast majority are from Muslim countries. We, in Europe - we provide 50 percent of humanitarian aid. We do our part, and we think that wealthy countries should do the same.

SIEGEL: But we've seen some real anti-immigrant resistance and Hungary and other East European countries. With so many countries staking out very independent policies, how can there be a European response to the migrant crisis?

GEORGIEVA: What we now recognize is that we have to work together to define a common approach. And that means how we register refugees, how much time we take to define who is a refugee, who is an illegal migrant, what we do with illegal migrants - and I believe that you will see, yes, with difficulties but progressing this area - common approach to a common problem.

SIEGEL: Well, let me ask you. Do you anticipate a change toward - a change to the whole Dublin system, the Dublin agreement by which the first country in the union that a refugee arrives in would no longer have special responsibility toward that person; the entire EU would have a responsibility toward that person.

GEORGIEVA: We will have a new package of proposals in the spring of next year, and then we will see all the details. Were are now working with member states. But we certainly will see a notion of common responsibility in this new proposal.

SIEGEL: It had been expected that winter would bring a great reduction in the number of migrants heading for Europe - doesn't seem to be happening. This last week, I think, there were 50,000-or-something people arriving. And in view of that, can you really wait until spring to develop a new policy on migrants?

GEORGIEVA: We have more than doubled our budget for the refugees. We started the year with 4.5 billion. Now we have nearly 10 billion euros, and that goes for reception capacity where they first arrive. It goes to help people build more housing for the refugees as the winter is approaching. And it helps us with assistance to the neighbors of Syria, to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey. We cannot wait for a new policy to do life-saving activities. But to have a policy that is actually going to be accepted by 28 countries and will work, we need to do the preparatory work for it. And in meanwhile, we are acting.

SIEGEL: People have mentioned your name as a possible candidate for secretary-general after Ban Ki-moon's term. Would that be fitting for - would it be important to have a woman, for that matter, a Bulgarian secretary-general of the U.N.?

GEORGIEVA: You look at the world. More than 50 percent of people on this planet are women, so sooner or later, it is just fair to have not one but maybe future secretary-generals of the United Nations. What it would be this time around, we will see. But as far...

SIEGEL: But I don't hear you saying a secretary-general - ridiculous. That's not your answer to that question.

GEORGIEVA: I'm very honored that my name is mentioned. But I have a job to do, and I am doing it.

SIEGEL: Well, Kristalina Georgieva - no, I didn't get it right, did I? Kristalina Georgieva, European...

GEORGIEVA: You did get it right.

SIEGEL: I got it right that...

GEORGIEVA: Thank you for that on behalf of all Bulgarians.

SIEGEL: (Laughter) A European Union vice president. Thank you very much for talking with us.

GEORGIEVA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.