Richard North, 08/01/2005  

Perhaps the EU has taken the hint and extended its 3-minute silence indefinitely. That is one possible inference one can draw from the Luxembourg EU presidency site which is strangely uninformative about the outcome of the emergency meeting of the EU foreign ministers today.

With some reluctance, however, one has to concede that this is the least likely scenario. The more probable reason for the silence of the site is that, on Friday afternoon, all the publicity officials had gone home. After all, it wouldn't do to overtax the poor little dears.

Nevertheless, the faithful Reuters was on the case although it too had little to report. External relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner is still pushing for the EU to set up a rapid reaction group to “coordinate” (that word again) civil protection in the wake of disasters such as the Indian Ocean tsunami. I suppose that if she starts now, she should just about have written the first draft of the manual by 2007.

Ever ready to grab the main chance, ministers also discussed improving military cooperation among the 25 member states so – guess what - it could offer rapid military assistance to the United Nations in future. The tranzis stick together to the last.

Not all was sweetness and light though, as French health minister Philippe Douste-Blazy noted that, "If Europe was fast to show its solidarity, I have to admit Europe was not very efficient," adding quickly, "It's not a criticism, it's just a fact. If we can't do it after that kind of a tragedy, we can never do it."

Certainly, there is no evidence that it the EU can do it with other kinds of tragedies either. We are reminded by the Belfast Telegraph that when floods ravaged Mozambique in 2000, donors and rich countries rushed to pledge $400m to help rebuild the impoverished southern African country.

Five years later the scars remain throughout the worst-hit provinces, far less than half of the figure promised was delivered and, as far as EU involvement went, a senior official with a relief agency said that EU bureaucracy was such that "the aid didn't arrive until the next floods came in".

Meanwhile, yesterday, the first CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter from the USS Bonhomme Richard landed at the airport in the devastated city of Banda Aceh. It unloaded about 15 Marines and a small group of U.S. Navy sailors to start helping out with “the organisation of logistical flow”.

The CH-53 is a serious bit of kit. Able to carry a 16-ton external load or 38 fully-equipped troops, its hold is even big enough for an EU ministers' meeting. Just a thought...

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