Why and when was an EU civil protection policy developed?
Member States and neighbouring countries are recurrently affected by natural and man made disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, terrorist attacks etc. According to the principle of subsidiarity, the primary responsibility for dealing with the immediate effects of a disaster lies with the country where the disaster occurs.
Nevertheless, when the scale of the disaster overwhelms national response capacities, a disaster-stricken country can benefit from civil protection means or teams available in other Member States. Experience of major disasters has prompted calls for improvement of Civil Protection action at EU level.
Description of the Civil Protection Mechanism
The Community Civil Protection Mechanism was established in 2001 to facilitate the mobilisation of support and assistance from Member States in the event of major emergencies. The heart of the Mechanism is the Commission’s 24 hour a day / 7 days a week Monitoring and Information Centre (known as the MIC). The MIC receives alerts and requests for assistance directly from a disaster-stricken country.
On receipt of a request for aid, the MIC immediately informs the national civil protection authorities. It will often appoint coordination and assessment experts that travel to the scene to identify the civil protection needs and help ensure its efficient delivery and distribution. The MIC liaises closely with the local authorities that coordinate the response to the disaster and with the UN Agencies working in the field.
The Civil Protection Mechanism covers all Member States, the Candidate Countries and the EEA countries. It operates both within and outside the EU. It is not a financial instrument, but focuses on mobilising existing assets needed to save lives and alleviate suffering in the first days of a disaster (typically search and rescue equipment, medical services, temporary shelter, sanitation equipment, etc).
For disasters outside the Union, the MIC usually sends an EU assessment and coordination team. This team is made up of two or three people from Member States who are expert in dealing with emergencies. Its role is to ensure a smooth exchange of information between all European teams, an optimal sharing of the work between the different teams present on site as well as appropriate cooperation with the UN and other partners present on the ground. For disasters inside the EU, the MIC can also send liaison officers.
The liaison officers can facilitate the exchange of information between the authorities of the disaster stricken country and the different national teams.
Currently, the annual budget of the Civil Protection Mechanism is €7 million. These funds are dedicated to actions such as training, exchange of experts and the sending of assessment/coordination teams on site to disaster-struck countries.
In its financial perspectives package, the Commission has proposed a significant increase in financing for civil protection. The proposed Rapid Response and Preparedness Instrument, once adopted by the Council, will provide the legal framework for financing of preparedness and rapid response actions inside the EU. The proposed financing for civil protection starts with €16 million/year in 2007 and increasing to €31 million by 2012. The costs of responding to disasters in third countries are addressed in the proposed Instrument for Stability.
Proposal for strengthening the EU Civil Protection Mechanism
Following the tsunami tragedy which struck South Asia in December 2004, the EU Council of Ministers decided to examine ways of improving the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism and to investigate the possibility of developing the EU rapid reaction capability to deal with disasters. The European Parliament also called for the creation of a pool of specialised civil protection units. The Luxembourg Presidency presented an EU Action Plan, covering various aspects of disaster relief, on 31 January 2005.
On 20 April, the Commission adopted a Communication on “Reinforcing EU Disaster and Crisis Response” (see IP/05/460). This Communication sets out the Commission’s overall response to the EU Plan of Action and proposes a wide range of measures to improve the EU’s general response capacity.
Together with this general Communication, the Commission adopted a specific Communication on Improving the Community Civil Protection Mechanism, outlining further measures to strengthen the contribution of the Union in the specific area of civil protection. It sets out in detail how the Commission proposes to strengthen European civil protection assistance and enhance the EU’s civil protection capability.
This Communication came two weeks after the Commission made a proposal for a Rapid Response and Preparedness instrument (IP/05/389 on financial perspectives), which provides the future legal framework for the financing of civil protection operations. In this proposal, the Commission suggests a major increase in the future financing for European civil protection actions, with annual amounts ranging from €16 million in 2007 to €30 million in 2013. In doing so, the Commission recognises the importance of immediate civil protection assistance as a tangible expression of European solidarity in the event of major emergencies. Together, these proposals provide a comprehensive basis for further developing European civil protection cooperation and ensuring that the Union can provide immediate civil protection assistance when disaster strikes.
What is new in the Communication from 20 April 2005?
The Communication proposes various measures that can be taken immediately to improve the Mechanism and maximise the impact of its assistance. The Commission proposes for instance to:
Enhance preparedness through further training and exercises.
Draw up scenarios covering all types of disasters to identify gaps and weaknesses in the European civil protection assistance, with the full participation of all Member States;
Develop a modular approach based on national, rapidly deployable civil protection modules. All participating countries should identify in advance self sufficient civil protection modules (water purification, search and rescue, telecommunications etc.) which could be rapidly deployed following a request for assistance from the EU Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC).
Reinforce the links between the Mechanism and early warning systems and strengthen the analytical and planning capacity of the MIC;
Strengthen the on-site assessment of specialised civil protection needs, and improve capacity for coordination of the deployment of EU civil protection assets, in full coordination with other actors;
Improve access to EU military assets for disaster relief
Provide EU funding for transportation costs.
In the longer term more ambitious and structural reforms of the Mechanism are envisaged. These will result in a more robust civil protection capability at EU level and will require an amendment of the existing Council Decision on the Civil Protection Mechanism. They include:
Developing standby modules, based in the Member States, for immediate deployment upon a request for assistance;
Mandating the Commission to inform third countries of the possibility of requesting assistance in the event of a disaster. Currently the MIC can only be activated once a formal request is received ;
Providing financing for the MIC to hire equipment that is necessary to ensure a rapid European response and which cannot be obtained from the Member States or other sources;
In the coming months, the Commission will make a proposal to amend the Council Decision on the Civil Protection Mechanism in order to provide a clear legal basis for these activities.
When has the Mechanism been used in practice?
Recent examples include floods in Central Europe (2002) and France (2003), the Prestige accident (2002), the earthquakes in Algeria (2003), Iran (2003) and Morocco (2004), the forest fires in France and Portugal (2003, 2004) and the explosion in Asunción (2004). End of 2004 and early 2005, the Mechanism was active in coordinating EU assistance when the Tsunami struck South Asia. Recently, Romania called upon the Mechanism for assistance in dealing with the consequences of flooding and Portugal received coordinated EU assistance to deal with this summer’s forest fires. Presently, the Mechanism is handling the coordination of EU assistance to the hurricane-struck areas in the United States.
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