The EU is considering setting up a permanent rapid reaction force to deal with the blazing forest fires that are raging throughout Southern Europe, as national fire-fighting resources are stretched to the limit.
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, on 31 July, said that the EU should create a permanent European civil protection force, equipped with at least ten fire-fighting aircraft on standby at all times, as a means of responding to the forest fires currently spreading across Southern Europe.
The suggestion came at the same time that the EU announced it was sending help to candidate country Macedonia to deal with fires that have been burning for the past week.
“This gesture of solidarity to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia comes at a time when Europe’s southern frontiers are burning, using up all of the resources we have available,” said the Commissioner.
Since June, the EU has received nine requests for assistance, including from Greece, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Italy, Macedonia and Albania, and fires have recently broken out on Spain’s Canary Islands and in Portugal. The existing mechanism for civil protection interventions, whereby the 27 member states, as well as Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, pool available resources together to help disaster-stricken countries all over the world, is being stretched to the limit.
“It is now time to enhance this mechanism, so that in the future we can be even more efficient,” said Dimas.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, whose countries have both been victims of forest fires in the past years have expressed their support for such a force.
The Commission said the affected regions could also apply for financial assistance under the EU’s €1 billion solidarity fund, in order to help clean up the burned-out areas and repair any important infrastructure damages.