A French minister complained to the UN without the slightest sense of irony, that the US was “occupying” Haiti because it tried to get American planes landed before those from other states.
The aptly named French Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet forgot two things: one, this is not an Arctic expedition race about whom plucks his flag down first; two, French occupation of the island had lasted longer and arguably caused more structural damage to the Haitian economy than, say, the Americans.
The press has given the EU a pretty hard time on its slower, and less coordinated initial response to Haiti. Here’s one particularly unforgiving portrait, centered on EU’s high representative – effectively foreign minister, a Baroness Ashton, one whom the British has a particular aversion to.
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.
In its defense, EU as an institution is just not set up to deal with large-scale search and rescue efforts compared to the US, due to both its ample military power and a more centralized decision-making system. And perhaps it’s time to stop expecting the EU, without meaningful control over its budget, nor a military force at its disposal, to act as swiftly and decisively as the “superpower” it’s trying to emulate across the pond.
You can certainly see why the EU is fretting about its lack of short-term “visibility” in this whole mess. Because this part, the image-making part, where soldiers march into the country, airdrop supplies, pull people out from the rubble, and maintaining piece while walking around with machine guns, gets beamed around the world. And at that point, it matters which flag is on your back.
But if media flash and political posturing is not the end game, it makes more sense for the EU to focus on what it does better – long-term reconstruction. It sure takes a lot more money, effort, and time, and often goes unnoticed. But it is a worthwhile pursuit for a unit aspiring to make an impact on the world.