In today’s multi-faceted responses in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, and elsewhere in the future, the EU and its member states face a growing challenge to reconcile existing commitments to humanitarian principles with the ambition of comprehensive crisis management. This article examines the tensions between the EU’s commitment to humanitarian principles and current approaches to foreign policy at a time when the EU comprehensive approach is evolving rapidly at the levels of policy, debate and practice. Drawing on field perspectives from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the authors argue that co-existence of various EU crisis management tools in the field, in a context aimed at policy coherence, risks EU-funded humanitarian aid becoming, or being perceived as, a foreign policy tool. The very real consequences can include lack of humanitarian access to people in need, beneficiaries’ lack of access to assistance and biased provision of aid to different populations. The article concludes with specific recommendations for the EU and its member states to ensure a safe, distinct working space for humanitarian aid and thus the effectiveness of EU humanitarian responses to emergencies.