Richard North, 01/09/2005  

Just over eight months ago, when the tsunami hit the countries of east Asia, world leaders were vying with each other to demonstrate their nation's generosity, with gushing concern for the victims of the disaster.

No nation was more generous with immediate practical help than the US, but right up front – in the gushing stakes - was José Manuel Barroso, president of the EU commission. He could not wait to high-tail it out to the disaster area, to hog the television limelight as he pledged other peoples' money to countries affected by the tsunami.

In the wake of the unprecedented disaster occasioned by Hurricane Katrina, however, I cannot trace a single statement of sympathy from the EU, despite the massive loss of life and appalling damage. Barroso, Solana and even the fragrant Margot seem not to have noticed. Although Queen Elizabeth II has offered her sympathy on behalf of the UK, there does not appear to have been an official statement from Tony Blair on behalf of the EU presidency. American lives, it seems, don't matter to the EU.

This is in start contrast to messages of sympathy from other leaders. They include the Pope, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Russian President Vladimir Putin, China's President Hu Jintao, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, and even a clutch of European leaders, including Chirac, Schröder and Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis Even OPEC sent a message, signed by its president and Kuwaiti Minister of Energy, Sheikh Ahmed Fahad al-Sabah.

As for offers of aid, in January, not only were governments falling over themselves, our television screens were saturated with details of how to donate to victims of the disaster. And what do we see now? Interestingly, Venezuela's government, which has had tense relations with Washington, offered humanitarian aid and fuel, while Venezuela's Citgo Petroleum Corp. pledged a $1 million donation for hurricane aid. Israel also offered specialist assistance.

From the EU though, not even a token gesture and absolutely nothing on our television screens. (For those of you who wish to help, however, the American Red Cross is accepting donations.)

Yet, next time there is a major disaster in the world, the Americans will be expected to be at the forefront of the relief effort, with the EU in particular, acting as cheer-leader for greater funding. The US could be forgiven then for looking askance at the EU and its double standards.


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