Haiti: how many Europeans does it take to assess an earthquake?

Whether Bulgaria's Rumiana Jeleva is the right person for the EU's humanitarian job or not, Haiti's catastrophic earthquake shows just how badly Europe needs someone to coordinate humanitarian assistance

Senior Policy Fellow




Yesterday – not long before news of the awful earthquake in Haiti – there was a rumpus in Brussels over whether the European Commissioner-designate for humanitarian aid (Bulgaria’s Rumiana Jeleva) has been fully honest about her business relationships.  There’s a chance that MEPs may try to claim Jeleva’s scalp as the price of voting in the new Commission.  I don’t know the rights and wrongs of her case, but events in Port-au-Prince have rammed home the need for properly-coordinated humanitarian response mechanisms – and shown that the EU has a lot more to do on this front. 

Here’s how some of the Union’s leadersreacted to the news from Haiti:

Today, the Spanish Secretary of State for the EU, Diego López Garrido, stated, on behalf of the ministers for Europe that are taking part in the meeting in La Granja (Segovia), that they have been informed about ‘the horrific earthquake that has hit Haiti and that the EU has immediately mobilised to help the victims’.

‘All the EU’s institutions, especially those most involved with humanitarian affairs, such as ECHO, are working to provide an efficient response to this situation,’ he said during a press conference.

‘Spain,’ he went on, ‘as the Presidency of the EU Council, is in close contact with the High Representative, Catherine Ashton, and there will therefore be the most coordinated response possible to the tragedy in Haiti from the EU.’

The most coordinated response possible?  The Spanish announced that an assessment team would be flying out of Brussels for Haiti on Wednesday afternoon.  So there’s a single EU response here?  Not according the New York Times:

France said it would send three military transport planes, including one from nearby Fort de France, Martinique, with aid supplies, and that 100 troops based in the French West Indies would be sent to help, according to TF1, a French television network. Britain and Germany were sending governmental assessment teams, and Germany said it would make 1.5 million euros, or about $2.2 million, available for emergency assistance.

There were some doubts if the British would be able to make it out of snow-bound Gatwick. But we now have four European assessment teams (to say nothing of the U.S., UN, a Chinese rescue squad, etc.). Or 5… the Italians are on their way:

Following the earthquake that yesterday afternoon shook the Democratic Republic of Haiti, on Minister Frattini’s instructions the Directorate General for Development Cooperation (DGCS) went into immediate action.

Two financial contributions were earmarked for international agencies operating on the ground [500,000 euros for WFP and the same for the Red Cross/Crescent]. The DGCS will also be participating in a coordinated Italian mission made possible by a flight arranged by the Civil Defence Department scheduled to leave soon for Haiti.

Now, I’m not an aid expert.  It’s possible that we need as many assessment teams in Haitias possible right now. The people getting on all these planes are brave and committed individuals.  And I’m certainly pleased that European governments are signing up to throw money at the problem (assuming that they pay up, and it’s used properly, which can’t be guaranteed). But is this really the most coordinated EU response imaginable? Or just an ad hoc rush to do some good? Ms. Jeleva may or may not the right person to take on these challenges. It’d be nice if someone did.

This was first posted on Richard Gowan’s Global Dashboard blog

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.

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Senior Policy Fellow

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