Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Tale of Two Superpowers

The UK Telegraph points out the difference between the EU and a superpower as regards their respective actions on the Haiti crisis.

Compare and contrast the initial responses of two "major world powers" to the Haitian earthquake disaster. Within hours of Port-au-Prince crumbling into ruins, the US had sent in an aircraft carrier with 19 helicopters, hospital and assault ships, the 82nd Airborne Division with 3,500 troops and hundreds of medical personnel. They put the country's small airport back on an operational footing, and President Obama pledged an initial $100 million dollars in emergency aid.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the European Union geared itself up with a Brussels press conference led by Commission Vice-President Baroness Ashton, now the EU's High Representative – our new foreign minister. A scattering of bored-looking journalists in the Commission's lavishly appointed press room heard the former head of Hertfordshire Health Authority stumbling through a prepared statement, in which she said that she had conveyed her "condolences" to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, and pledged three million euros in aid.

The Telegraph item is an indictment of the EU's inaction coming from a right-leaning publication, but it's not fundamentally different from the friendly account provided by an EU-philic web publication:

[The EU’s new foreign minister, Catherine] Ashton's office already leapt into action on Wednesday (13 January) as news emerged of the scale of what looks like the worst natural disaster since the Asian tsunami in 2004 ... Ms Ashton chaired a meeting in Brussels of European Commission officials from the foreign relations, development and environment departments as well as experts from the EU Council and the Situation Centre, the EU member states' intelligence-gathering hub.

And she chaired not just a single meeting, mine you, but several meetings at which promises were discussed.

The meeting agreed to trigger €3 million in emergency aid, signed off by development commissioner Karel de Gucht, and to look into further financial assistance, such as advance payments from the commission's €28 million annual development budget for Haiti.

It also decided to send officials from the commission's environment department to the earthquake zone to assess damage and to task an environment department unit to co-ordinate pledges from Belgium, Sweden, France, the UK, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Norway, Iceland and Luxembourg to send personnel and equipment.

Ms Ashton on Wednesday also attended a separate meeting of EU member states' ambassadors in Brussels and may travel to Haiti personally in future.

-- snip --

Ms Ashton is on Thursday to meet with Spanish defence minister Carme Chacon to see what else can be done.

While Ms. Ashton conducts her whirlwind round of meetings, it appears that everything useful that is actually being done is being done by a few individual states acting without benefit of EU bureaucracy. As the EU Observer further reports:

Meanwhile, EU member states are carrying out the vast bulk of Europe's response on a bilateral basis with Haiti, with the former colonial powers in the region - France, Spain, the UK and the Netherlands - taking the lead.

France, the former colonial ruler in Haiti, has sent two military planes carrying 85 rubble-clearing experts and medical staff, with the country's development minister, Alain Joyandet, set to travel to the country in the coming days.

Spain has sent three planes with over 40 staff and 150 tonnes of supplies and pledged an extra €3 million. The country's secretary of state for Latin America, Juan Pablo de Laiglesia, is on his way to Haiti to help run the relief effort.

The UK has sent over 70 rescue specialists and 10 tonnes of kit. The Netherlands has donated €2 million and will send a 60-person search-and-rescue team.

The joke about NATO is that the acronym stands for "No Action, Talk Only." So EU must stand for, what, Extraordinarily Unhelpful? Exceptionally Unresponsive? Eerily Unanimated? Extravagantly Unhurried? Expected to be Useless? Exceptionally Utopian? Expensive but Unproductive? Egregiously Unpurposed? Essentially Unreal? Elegantly Unhurried? Egotistic but Unresourceful? Evidently Unready? Eternally Underperforming? Effete and Unfruitful? Excited but Unavailable? Exhausted and Unnecessary? Eloquent but Unprepared? I can keep them coming all day long.

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