The EU was not required to play a major part in assisting Japan, but its members delivered significant quantities of basic supplies and the European Commission played a useful co-ordinating role.
Shortly after Japan was struck by an earthquake and tsunami in March that resulted in critical damage to the Fukushima nuclear plant, Tokyo asked the European Commission to activate its Civil Protection Mechanism, which co-ordinates and facilitates member states’ responses to disasters. Japan’s prosperity meant that, unlike in Haiti in 2010 or the Horn of Africa in 2011, this was a humanitarian crisis in which there was little need for Europeans to make large financial contributions. Nevertheless, member states were able to assist by delivering supplies in the two months immediately following the catastrophe.
The Civil Protection Mechanism oversaw seven shipments of aid totalling over 400 tonnes of supplies to Japan. These deliveries, which arrived between 25 March and 28 April, included basics such as blankets and bottled water. Denmark, Lithuania and the Netherlands provided the first batch and traditionally important humanitarian players such as France, Sweden and the UK were also involved. But other less well-established aid-givers such as Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia were also involved in the EU effort. The European Commission agreed to cover some of the transport costs where necessary and some shipments were delivered by European companies such as Lufthansa. Not all European assistance was channelled through the Civil Protection Mechanism: Germany, for example, sent assistance bilaterally.
In early April, the European Commission pledged €10 million to the Red Cross to help house homeless victims of the disaster. In response to criticisms of its low profile after the Haiti earthquake, the European Commission tried to publicise its aid efforts more thoroughly than in the past. Thus, Kristalina Georgieva, the commissioner responsible for humanitarian affairs, visited the disaster zone in April. The crisis demonstrated the utility of the Civil Protection Mechanism, which has performed well in other recent crises but often receives relatively little attention for its co-ordination of member states’ responses to disasters around the world.