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EU's response to natural disasters prompts new criticism of crisis policy

With wildfires continuing to rage in Russia and the situation worsening in flood-hit Pakistan, the European Union is once again being criticized for its uncoordinated approach to international crisis management.

Pakistani flood survivors jostle to get relief supplies provided by Pakistan army in Jaffarabad, Pakistan

Critics say the EU needs a unified response to disasters

After the earthquake which hit Haiti in January this year, a number of European officials called on the EU to create a European emergency force to react as a single body to international crisis situations. The EU came under fire for its lack of cohesion with critics lamenting the missed opportunity for the bloc to show its solidarity and project its image as a major player on the world stage.

Eight months on from Haiti, the EU has yet to create a single emergency reaction force or aid fund and as such is running the risk of being labelled weak and inefficient again.

Over the weekend, French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for the establishment of an EU disasters rapid reaction force in a letter to EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

Sarkozy said that amid such natural catastrophes as the Russian wildfires and the Pakistan floods, "we must take the necessary measures and build a real EU reaction force ... that draws on the resources of the member states."

Creation of single EU body at the mercy of national interests

"There has been a discussion about creating a European civilian response body for emergency situations but it all comes down to the national members states," Fabrice Pothier, European bureau chief for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Deutsche Welle.

The EU flag is mirrored in the glasswork of the EU Council headquarters in Brussels

It's difficult to get member states to rally round the EU flag

"So far they have failed to find a way to bring all the necessary personnel together - such as police, fire fighters and the judiciary. Europe has this capability but you have to start at the national level when coordinating this. Of course, when it doesn't happen, it's all the fault of Brussels."

"The problem, firstly, is one of political will," he added. "It's a hard sell for national governments to ask their people to provide resources for Brussels. There's also a problem arising from the fact that each member state has its own strategies and they want to put their own flag in the ground, not that of the EU."

"The Lisbon Treaty requires the EU to 'promote consistency in international civil-protection work'," Dr. Sven Grimm from the German Development Institute told Deutsche Welle. "I am not sure that this requires a single body. While a clear setting would facilitate speedy coordination, the rapidness of response - and the scope of it - is ultimately a question of political will and priorities, not so much of whether or not to have a single body."

The current EU crisis response tool, the Community Mechanism for Civil Protection, organised through the Monitoring and Information Center of the European Commission's aid directorate, acts as a coordinating body for the many individual relief efforts launched by EU member states.

The mission statement for the Community Mechanism for Civil Protection states that EU assistance will be provided on request of the country affected by the emergency and that the primary responsibility for dealing with the immediate effects of the disaster lies with the country where it has occurred.

EU says efforts on hold until Russia asks for help

Fire fighters struggles with a blaze near the village of Kustaryovka

Individual EU states have sent help to fire-ravaged Russia

In Russia's case, the EU says that the mechanism hasn't been triggered because Moscow has not asked for Europe's help. The Kremlin has been committed to showing that it can handle the wildfire situation on its own, even though its efforts to date have led to scathing criticism from within Russia itself.

"The EU needs to get smarter when it comes to cooperation," Pothier said. "It shouldn't strive to replace national initiatives and emergency crisis teams but it should get better at connecting them."

In contrast to the Russian stance, Pakistan, however, has asked for help in dealing with the deteriorating situation brought on by severe flooding in north western and central regions of the country.

Read more on the criticism of the EU's response

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