PositionEuropean Union

The catastrophe in the Indian Ocean has confronted the European Union with a grim test of how well it can play the wider international role it claims for itself.

When European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso spoke in the European Parliament in mid-December of Europe's "duty of solidarity with the poorest regions of the world", he could not have expected how soon and how dramatically his words would need translating into deeds.

The EU has made an energetic start. On the day of the tragedy, the European Commission's message of sympathy was already accompanied by an initial Euro 3 million in aid, and by the mobilisation of EU experts on the ground. The EU response has grown since then. A European Commissioner and a minister from the EU Presidency have been spearheading on-the-spot assessments of needs, in liaison with an emergency response team in Brussels, EU field staff in the region, and the relief organisations the EU is funding to deliver aid.

The European Commission has been coordinating support and assistance from 30 countries, which have sent doctors and technicians and tonnes of supplies - food, water and sanitation, health supplies, shelter and communications. There will be top-level EU attendance at this week's South East Asian regional summit in Jakarta, and at the UN donor conference in Geneva next week.

And by January 4, the...

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