"I asked for this debate to update you on this massive political and humanitarian disaster", Lady Ashton told Parliament. She noted that 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.
Commissioner de Gucht
"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.
Gay Mitchell (EPP, IE) welcomed the fact that Commissioner de Gucht would be able to brief Parliament's Development Committee on Monday 25 January, following his visit to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Since the EU as a whole is the biggest humanitarian aid donor "the EU has to be more visible on the ground", he said, suggesting the possible presence of EU battle groups, for example. He also noted that Haiti's underlying problem is poverty, and called for long-term measures to remedy it.
Linda McAvan (S&D, UK), said the "public have been responding magnificently" to appeals for donations, and that the EU should also increase its support. She underlined that an international conference on Haiti should address the debt problem and asked whether the €100 Million IMF loan to Haiti could be converted to a grant.
"The situation in Haiti is the worst humanitarian disaster in decades", said Liam Aylward (ALDE, IE). "Bureaucratic problems are clearly hampering aid distribution, which has serious consequences on the ground. Clear leadership and co-ordinated assistance on the ground are needed. Long-term development of Haiti must become a priority. When the cameras have gone the EU will have to continue with the work of developing and rebuilding the country", he added.
Development Committee Chair Eva Joly (Greens/EFA, FR) underlined the unprecedented scale of the tragedy. "International institutions have imposed wrong policies on Haiti and we have weakened the social fabric in the country", she said, adding that "what we need to do is to provide as much support as we can but we have to call into question our own development methods". She concluded by comparing the $150 billion dollar rescue package for US Banks to the volume of aid currently planned for Haiti.
Nirj Deva (ECR, UK), recalled that during each natural disaster "we are caught short with infrastructure". "We need to be able to supply infrastructure", he said, calling for the establishment of a global rescue operation that can not only provide immediate relief but also restore destroyed infrastructure.
Patrick Le Hyaric (GUE/NGL, FR), said EU assistance had to be increased and the world banking system should also help Haiti. Parliament should announce its support for the unconditional cancellation of Haiti's debt, he said, adding that the US should not be allowed "to occupy Haiti", under the pretext of aid.
Fiorello Provera (EFD, IT) expressed his "profound solidarity with the victims of this terrible earthquake". He commented that "in situations like this, where buildings and infrastructure have been destroyed on a large scale and there are thousands of deaths, aid is essential. However, it is hard to bring aid without minimum requirements of public safety being in place for aid workers. Collecting necessary funds and distributing them properly is essential. All too often, both private and public donors have seen their generosity betrayed. A proper system of control must be in place to prevent a scattergun approach to distributing aid and possible theft of funds in a country with high levels of corruption and a weak government".
Nick Griffin (NA, UK) said that "the horror of Haiti is shocking, and it is only human to feel compassion for the innocent victims of this natural disaster. All here are well paid - and can afford to give. I will give my attendance allowance for today, if every other British MEP will do the same. The death toll in Haiti is shocking, but this winter more than 50,000 pensioners in Britain alone will die premature deaths because of the cold and the cost of heating".
Concluding statement by Lady Ashton
"The fact that we work closely and collaboratively with the US authorities is also an important part of what we do now and in the future", said Ms Ashton in reply to questions about aid visibility and co-ordination under the auspices of the United States.
"Let us not forget that for the very first time, Council and Commission mobilized to respond to the present crisis", she underlined, welcoming the fact that 21 Member States had responded with concrete commitments on search and rescue teams, mobile hospitals and water purification units.
To MEPS who criticised her for not visiting Haiti, she said: "I had nothing to contribute on the ground other than taking up valuable space when planes were unable to land because of the state of the airfield (...) I am not a doctor, nor a fire fighter. My place was to bring together co-ordination at EU level and with the UN".
Acknowledging the difficulty of getting the aid through to the people who need it she said "did it work well? Yes. Am I satisfied? No".