EU dispatches rescue teams in response to Turkey-Syria earthquake

Good morning. More than 4,300 people have died as a result of two earthquakes in south-east Turkey and north-west Syria yesterday, with emergency services still searching thousands of collapsed buildings in the hope of finding survivors.

Plus — the war in Ukraine has turned European thinking on its own defence and security upside down. Now finance ministries are being asked how to fund the new reality. I look at two examples sketched out yesterday.

‘Like the apocalypse’

Two earthquakes that brought down entire apartment blocks in Turkey and Syria have killed at least 4,300 people and injured thousands more, sparking an international humanitarian relief effort.

The first quake, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, struck just after 4am with people in their beds. And then, in the afternoon, as rescuers and emergency services were working to free those trapped in the rubble, a second tremor of almost identical magnitude hit.

Turkey’s biggest earthquake in almost a century has caused a spiralling humanitarian crisis in near-freezing temperatures, with countries across Europe and further afield pledging mobile kitchens, tents, blankets and emergency services equipment to help those left homeless.

After Turkey, a Nato member and EU candidate country, made a request to activate the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, and Romania all sent search and rescue teams to the country.

In addition, the EU yesterday evening activated its integrated political crisis response mechanism to co-ordinate member state support measures.

“Because the debris removal efforts are continuing in many buildings in the earthquake zone, we cannot know how high the number of dead and injured will rise,” Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said yesterday, describing it as the country’s “biggest catastrophe” since an earthquake in 1939 that killed about 33,000 people.

The earthquakes will also compound an already critical humanitarian crisis in neighbouring Syria, already devastated by more than 11 years of war.

More than 1,400 people have been declared dead in Syria, according to both Damascus and authorities in the small part of the country controlled by anti-regime forces.

“It was like the apocalypse,” Abdul Salam al-Mahmoud, a Syrian in the northern town of Atareb, told Reuters. “It’s bitterly cold and there’s heavy rain, and people need saving.”

Chart du jour: Ghost fleet

Sanctions imposed by the EU, UK and US on Russia’s oil exports have seen tankers from Iran’s “ghost fleet” — previously used to circumvent UN sanctions against Tehran — switch to working for Moscow, according to a Financial Times investigation.

War chests

Fighting wars costs money. Maintaining a military capable of fighting one isn’t cheap either.

That’s the brutal reality facing European capitals in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Yesterday Norway and Lithuania sketched out ways they hope to cover increased costs, answering a quandary posed to finance ministers across the continent.

Context: Vladimir Putin’s war has upended years of European defence thinking, and led to heavy criticism of the previous approach of reaping a so-called “peace dividend” — cutting defence spending since the cold war that has left militaries underfunded and ill-equipped.

Lithuania said yesterday it was looking at imposing a windfall tax on banks, whose profits are rising this year on higher interest rates, with the proceeds earmarked for the defence ministry.

Similarly, Norway said that it would give Ukraine some of its additional revenues from increased energy exports, totalling about $7.3bn over five years. (That’s aimed at deflecting criticism it has profited from the war’s impact on energy prices, but is only a fraction of the $108bn it made last year alone.)

The war, now in its 12th month, has already seen many European governments jack up defence spending. Poland has said it plans to spend 4 per cent of gross domestic product on defence this year, up from just below 2.5 per cent.

Nato officials have said that they expect all alliance members will pledge to hit or exceed the 2 per cent benchmark this year (just nine of the 30 members did in 2022)

Lithuania, which borders Russia, has budgeted for defence spending of €1.8bn this year, or 2.52 per cent of GDP. Those bank profits will come in handy.

What to watch today

  1. Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg begins a visit to the US.

  2. EU foreign policy head Josep Borrell gives keynote speech (at 0915) to open Brussels conference on the response to foreign disinformation efforts.

  3. Economy ministers of France and Germany meet US officials to discuss European concerns over the US’s new green subsidies.

Now read these

This post was originally published on Financial Times

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