Haiti Tragedy and the EU’s Response - A Reflection on the EU’s Disaster Response Procedure

, by Andrea Petkoviae

Haiti Tragedy and the EU's Response - A Reflection on the EU's Disaster Response Procedure

Hours after the lethal earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale struck Haiti on 12th January killing more than 200 000 people and leaving more than a million homeless, the European Union announced that it would provide €3 million for immediate relief activities. Many considered the EU initial reaction too sluggish and low-key, forgetting that the European Commission is not allowed to allocate more than 3 million Euros in immediate response to a single crisis.

After a powerful earthquake rocked the impoverished island of Haiti, without delay the world has responded with vast amounts of aid and relief effort. The US for example, immediately sent an aircraft carrier with 19 helicopters, hospital and assault ships, the 82nd Airborne Division with 3,500 troops and hundreds of medical personnel and pledged initial 100 million dollars in emergency aid. The World Bank also pledged 100 million dollars, while the United Nations promised 10 million dollars and announced that it would appeal for an additional 500 million. Dozens of companies including Google, Microsoft and Bank of America committed 1 million dollars each and Hollywood stars and singers all immediately raised money themselves or encouraged donations for the relief effort.

The European Union’s reaction however, at least initially, was a bit low-key. Many have criticized the EU’s response for being sluggish and said that once again the EU demonstrated its glaring weaknesses, just as the Lisbon Treaty came into force.

Catherine Ashton: “Rebuilding Haiti is now a priority for the EU!”

The European Union is currently undergoing an institutional transition. One of the major changes is that it now has its own foreign policy chief: Catherine Ashton.

Ms. Ashton also came under fire from centre-right and Green politicians in the European Parliament for not even visiting Haiti. On the eve of the meeting of Development Ministers in Brussels, Ashton highlighted the EU’s determination to help Haiti in overcoming the consequences of this devastating earthquake. She said: “While we are making sure that Haiti receives the immediate and urgent support it needs, we also have to get ready for the very important next step in helping Haiti to rebuild the country. I am in close contact with our partners in Europe and beyond to coordinate these efforts. Together with the Spanish Presidency and Commissioner Karel de Gucht we have organized a meeting of development ministers which I will chair. I am absolutely committed to helping the people in Haiti. That is what the people of Haiti expect and they can count on us. Rebuilding Haiti is now a priority for the EU.”

"While we are making sure that Haiti receives the immediate and urgent support it needs, we also have to get ready for the very important next step in helping Haiti to rebuild the country

After the meeting, Development Ministers announced that the EU would provide more than 420 million Euros for the emergency relief and long-term reconstruction assistance, including 137 million Euros of immediate aid.

This proves that there clearly is a role for the EU in planning for the long-term development of Haiti. One of the main questions that still remains to be answered is however, what role exactly should EU play in coordination emergency search, rescue and relief operations - especially considering that the EU as an institution is not important for effective rescue work.

Europe can be decisive and generous

The EU is currently obsessed with being seen as a “world player.” It is often easy for that desire to translate into wanting to act as if the EU were a state. Nevertheless, the EU has no military capacity and even if it had, it would be hard to match it with other world powers such as the US or Russia. The fact that Europe cannot match world powers in this sense does not make it weak or ineffective, regardless of what critics have been claiming.

It is very clear that when the EU wants to act, it can act decisively and generously, however, there is a long road ahead for Ms. Ashton who now must coordinate the EU’s foreign and security policy. That is going to be one of the principal challenges of the “new” European Union.

Image: EU Aid in Haiti, Source: Google Images

Your comments
  • On 16 February 2010 at 10:23, by Ombrageux Replying to: Haiti Tragedy and the EU’s Response - A Reflection on the EU’s Disaster Response Procedure

    The Europeans as a bloc are neither good at marketing themselves nor concerting with each other. They have the means to be an actor however. In a strange inversion, the Americans are now our poor cousins when it comes to giving out aid. The Europeans have considerable forces to spare for peacekeeping and nation-building operations abroad, and I mean the practical down to Earth humanitarian and police work they have done across the Balkans and Africa.

    The Europeans are admirably equipped to help countries like Haiti, Chad, Bosnia, Congo and others and escape the cycles of violence and poverty. They don’t act with as much coherence as they could. The Europeans squander much of their military potential by indulging the Americans with their mystical crusades and hair-brained projects. This can be changed however.

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