Speech by European Commission President: Intervention in Plenary session of special Asian Leaders' Meeting on aftermath of earthquake and Tsunami

from European Commission
Published on 06 Jan 2005

Special Asian Leaders' Meeting, Jakarta, 6 January 2005

The damage brought by this terrible disaster has shocked the world. Our hearts go out to those who have so tragically died and to those who survived but have lost their loved ones, their homes and their livelihoods.

The impact of this disaster is felt across the world - the tsunami battered numerous countries and also claimed its victims from many nationalities, including many Europeans.

But, within this terrible event, I and indeed all Europeans have been deeply moved by the extraordinary courage, humanity and compassion that your peoples have shown in tending for the dead and in helping the living through their terrible ordeal.

These tragedies reveal the very limits of men and women before the sheer force of nature, to which we can only show humility and respect. They show us also how we must stand together, leave our differences behind and act in common purpose. Only in this way will we be able to overcome the enormous challenges faced right now in providing succour to those desperately in need and begin the reconstruction of shattered communities.

We have witnessed an unprecedented expression of solidarity across the world, one that we must sustain and build upon, because the road ahead is a long one.

I am here today to express our sympathy but also state the commitment of the European Commission and, with Prime Minister Juncker, of the entire European Union to support you in your hour of need. We will do everything in our power to help you in your efforts to put this tragedy behind us.

First, we will continue to support you with immediate humanitarian aid. Shortly after the disaster struck, an assessment team from the European Humanitarian Office was deployed to Sri Lanka and Indonesia to assess the humanitarian situation and prepare further assistance to the victims. And for the last few days, the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Assistance, Louis Michel, has been in the region, personally witnessing the terrible human suffering and destruction left by this disaster but also the courage and resilience of your citizens.

The European Commission responded immediately with funds for humanitarian assistance. On same day of the tsunami, an initial commitment of 3 million euros was allocated to the Red Cross relief efforts, to be followed a few days later by an additional 20 million euros. This total of 23 million so far is money that has already been committed not merely pledged.

The European Civil Protection Mechanism was also activated following the first reports of the earthquake and tidal waves, mobilizing and coordinating civil protection assistance from EU Member States and neighbouring countries. Assessment and coordination experts were sent without delay to Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Maldives to coordinate the arrival and distribution of European aid - particularly medical assistance and water purification - and assess the needs of further assistance, working in close cooperation with local authorities and other donors.

But we can not stop here. Immediate humanitarian needs to continue and further emergency assistance is required. And I announce today that I have proposed that the Commission allocate an additional amount of humanitarian aid of up to 100 million Euro, which will be used to respond to identified needs as well as to the UN and Red Cross appeals.

Humanitarian efforts must continue but they must also be matched by effective planning for long term reconstruction to make people less vulnerable if such a disaster were to strike again.

We recognize the reconstruction needs that your countries will face to repair the infrastructure destroyed and to restart the livelihoods of your devastated coastal communities. We must ensure that there is a seamless transition from the current humanitarian support to a second phase of rehabilitation and reconstruction. This work will take several years and we will only know the final costs when the needs assessments currently underway are finalised. However, I want to announce already today that I am recommending to the budgetary authorities of the European Union to provide through the European Commission up to €350 million Euro to help you in this reconstruction task.

The European Parliament must still approve these proposals but I can share with you the strong message of solidarity that President Borrell has conveyed to me and his firm initial political support for these measures.

This means total humanitarian and reconstruction aid to be committed just through the European Commission would amount to €450 million Euro - equivalent to over 600 million dollars.

But this is only part of the picture. Taken together with contributions by Member States, the European Union's contribution will be about €1,5 billion Euro - which is close to $2 billion dollars.

I am also gratified to see Europe's citizens responding with substantial private donations in a groundswell of spontaneous generosity, a powerful reflection of the solidarity the people of Europe feel with the victims of the disaster.

Aid is essential but perhaps even more important than how much money is pledged is the need to ensure that this is quality aid, delivered rapidly and in an effective and coordinated manner. The countries concerned must lead in this and I commit that the European Commission will work with you to ensure that our aid is part of your coordinated programmes. I also undertake to ensure that procedures are accelerated to ensure aid is delivered speedily and we will work with other donors and the United Nations, which will take the lead, to ensure effective coordination.

Beyond the question of debt relief to assist countries in their reconstruction efforts, which is already firmly on the international agenda, there are other ways we can help you.

I will be proposing that the European Investment Bank manage a dedicated long term lending facility on favourable terms to help finance the reconstruction efforts. It would be implemented in close coordination with the Commission, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. We are going to propose to our Member States such an "Indian Ocean Tsunami Facility" for an amount of up to 1 billion euros.

The European Union will also assist, where it can, in international efforts to develop early warning systems in order better to prepare and respond to the challenges of such natural disasters in the future.

The Commission is also considering proposals for a new EU approach to reinforce capacity for disaster prevention and, as Prime Minister Juncker has done, I welcome proposals for the development of a rapid response humanitarian capacity for the European Union, which would permit it to enhance further its assistance in future disasters and humanitarian crises.

I close with a strong message of solidarity from Europe - we are with you in this tragedy and we mourn with you for your dead and indeed for the many of our own citizens who lost their lives to the tsunami. And please know that we will continue to stand with you, shoulder to shoulder, in this difficult time and in the days ahead as we work together to put this terrible tragedy behind us.