The other lesson of globalisation is gradually hitting home in the European Union. It is not just that economic successes elsewhere pose challenges for European jobs and welfare. Member states are slowly perceiving that problems in distant parts of the world can no longer be comfortably ignored either.

Consequently, avian flu has shot up the EU agenda as fast as migrating birds have carried this high-toxicity strain from South-East Asia into the EU's hinterland. The menace of a pandemic has galvanised the member states into a belated flurry of activity even provoking an extraordinary meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council next week.

Like the tsunami lesson that EU delivery of disaster relief is insufficiently coordinated, or the Katrina lesson that EU capacity to cope with energy shortages has been neglected, this latest threat has thrown into sharp relief another failure of forward planning.

There is little excuse in the face of so many warning signals. Earlier outbreaks in China demonstrated the possibility of animal-to-human transmission of viruses, and raised the spectre of human-to-human transmission of mutated viruses. The SARS episode last year showed how quickly disease can travel from continent to continent.

The European Commission's senior health official, Robert Madelin, pinpointed national hesitations in Europe Information last July: "We have a...

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