Caherine Asthon explains EU role in Haiti to MEPs

Members of the Europeoan Parliament urged that the EU deliver on its aid pledge as soon as possible and give a solid commitment to reconstruction. "Our goal is to ease suffering and our commitment to rebuild is long-term", said EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Lady Ashton in her first statement to Parliament.

Lady Ashton told Parliament that she had asked for that debate to update MEPs on "this massive political and humanitarian disaster".

Foreign affairs ministers had agreed at an extraordinary session the previous day to commit €122 million in humanitarian assistance and €100 million for non-humanitarian aid. "The financial contribution from the EU instruments to finance the long-term response will amount to €200 million", she added.

"It is a big response in a short time. Finding money will be less difficult than to get it there", said Ms Ashton, adding that the Council would look again at Haiti Monday 25 January and was likely to decide to deploy a contingent of the European Gendarmerie Force to Port-au-Prince.

"The EU has responded quickly" but, in line the UN Secretary-General's advice, "we have resisted the urge to travel there", she told MEPs, adding that she herself would travel to the US that week to co-ordinate efforts with the UN and the US administration.

"It is not only about rescuing human lives, but rescuing a country as a whole", said Development and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Karel De Gucht. Members of international organizations had also fallen victim to the catastrophe, which made it more difficult to organize aid on the spot, he explained, adding that that urgent medical, technical and logistic help were needed to avoid further risks such as an outbreak of cholera.

The Commission is allocating €130 million in humanitarian aid, of which €77 million is "fresh money", he said. For long-term reconstruction aid, €200 million is foreseen, and the Commission would have to assess with EU Member States whether this amount could be increased, he continued. Mr De Gucht announced that he would travel to the region the next day and visit Haiti and the neighbouring Dominican Republic.