Wednesday

1st Apr 2020

Russian fires, Pakistan floods pose questions for EU crisis management

  • Moscow - the Russian capital is shrouded in smog (Photo: RiMarkin)

The French junior minister for EU affairs, Pierre Lellouche, has renewed calls for a European disaster reaction force in the context of Russia's wildfires.

In an interview on Tuesday (10 August) in French daily Le Figaro, Mr Lellouche said: "At the European level, it would ... be good to have real means of mutual aid in case of emergency."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

"Following the earthquake in Haiti, I emphasised to our European partners the need to pool our means to create a European emergency force. It still does not exist."

He noted that the current EU crisis response tool, the Community Mechanism for Civil Protection, has not been triggered so far amid political pressure in Russia to show that it can handle the situation itself.

"Across the EU, the mechanism of civil emergency has not been activated for the moment because the Russians have not asked," Mr Lellouche said.

"I appreciate the criticism of the Russian and international press about the weaknesses attributed to Russian authorities faced with this catastrophe. The French government's role is not to judge the actions of Moscow. Our role is to assist."

The Mechanism for Civil Protection helps EU countries to co-ordinate bilateral relief efforts through a special office, the Monitoring and Information Centre, in the European Commission's aid directorate.

Individual EU states, such as Bulgaria, France and Italy, have already sent planes, smoke masks and experts to Russia.

But EU-level intervention has so far been limited to informal consultations between aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva and Russian counterparts.

Ms Georgieva, a former Bulgarian official, on Monday told Bulgarian news agency Novinite that she has spoken to Russia's emergencies minister Sergey Shoygu and that she was present during a phone call from Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to Bulgarian leader Boyko Borisov in which Mr Putin thanked the country for sending firefighters.

"We are viewing the problem in Russia as something very grave, for as we all can see it affects the life and health of many people," she said. "I've lived in Moscow and I know what it means for this town to be surrounded by wildfires."

The Russian fires have caused volatility in grain markets and food prices, affecting the EU, but government experts in Belgium and France say there is no serious threat of nuclear contamination from the old Chernobyl site being stirred up into the air.

A second Haiti?

The French junior minister's reference to Haiti points back to his criticism of EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton earlier this year, in which Mr Lellouche said Ms Ashton missed an opportunity to increase EU visibility on the world stage.

In terms of global disaster response, the EU has so far pledged a modest €30 million to help victims of the Pakistan floods.

But with many top EU officials on holiday during Europe's August vacation season and with the Pakistan situation worsening day-by-day, the bloc's crisis reaction capabilities risk looking weak once again.

"The number of people affected by Pakistan's floods is now estimated to be 13.8 million," the UN said in a statement on Monday. "This is a higher figure than those who were affected by the 2005 South Asia tsunami (5 million), the 2005 South Asia earthquake (3 million), or the 2010 Haiti earthquake (3 million)."

In Saudi Arabia, contacting the EU is a crime

Women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul is facing trial. One of the allegations is contacting the EU delegation. Despite pressure from Brussels, Saudi Arabia remains unimpressed.

EU declares Africa 'most important' global partner

The European Commission has a new strategy for Africa. The proposal, whose details have yet to be worked out, spans broad issues like climate, energy, digital transformation, jobs, peace, governance, and migration.

News in Brief

  1. Danish conservatives want Orban party kicked out of EPP
  2. Dutch finance minister repents on virus help
  3. France to house domestic violence victims in hotels
  4. Europe sends medical goods to Iran, despite US embargo
  5. Commission sets consultation on raising 2030 climate target
  6. 12-year old Belgian girl dies of coronavirus
  7. EU commission: no 'indefinite' emergency measures
  8. Denmark plans 'gradual' return to normal after Easter

Opinion

Trump's 'plan' for Israel will go against EU values

As someone who has been personally targeted by Benjamin Netanyahu's incitement against Arabs and Palestinians, Christians, Muslims and Druze, I still believe that peace is possible. But Donald Trump's 'plan' will be a gift to Netanyahu's campaign.

China spy suspect worked for EU for 30 years

The former EU ambassador suspected by German prosecutors of spying for China was Gerhard Sabathil, according to EU officials speaking on condition of anonymity.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking Europe’s Economy Circular – the time is now
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  3. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms

Latest News

  1. Without European patriotism, EU decline is inevitable
  2. EU cancels April Fool's 'fake news'
  3. A coronavirus 'Marshall Plan' alone won't be nearly enough
  4. Trying to think straight about coronavirus
  5. Berlin ready to airlift Greek island refugees
  6. Von der Leyen criticises Hungary, but fails to mention it
  7. Air pollution drops in Europe, but how long will it last?
  8. Human rights abusers don't stop for virus, MEPs tell EU

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us