Civil Protection needs more and targeted EU involvement

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Dimitris Dimitriadis [EESC]

Climate change has been described as one of the biggest global threats of the 21st century. Dimitris Dimitriadis explains what the European Union needs to do to improve its civil protection capacities.

Dimitris Dimitriadis is a member of the European Economic and Social Committee and the former EESC president. His proposals will be debated with Christos Stylianides, European Commissioner for Crisis management, at the EESC’s plenary session on 18 October. 

Climate change comes with increasingly extreme weather events – storms, floods and fires all over Europe, which are posing a serious threat to our societies, economies and ecosystems. In 2017 alone freak weather events caused 200 casualties. Such catastrophes require mutual assistance and cooperation beyond national borders.

With the Union Civil Protection Mechanism, the EU has institutionalised cross-border cooperation. The Emergency Response Coordination Centre is the visible expression of European solidarity – as an interim evaluation states.

However, this system, which is based on voluntary contributions from member states, has proven to be insufficient to respond to major emergencies. The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has outlined a fully developed Union Civil Protection Mechanism built on three essential elements:

1.             A European civil protection capacity

A genuine European civil protection capacity should fill the gaps identified in the national response systems. To build this capacity, the Union must finance the acquisition of new resources, for instance, fire-fighting aircraft. These new resources could be based on rental contracts, or on the repair and adaptation of existing equipment, with significant contributions from the Union. The Union could also bear the costs resulting from the actions carried out by the mechanism, or its transport costs. Some of these aspects are already provided for in the current mechanism, which was a good start. However, the low level of co-financing offered by the current system means that incentives are not being fully used.

2.             Consistency of the capacity with other existing instruments

The new mechanism should also be more consistent both within and beyond the EU. This means that the establishment of European civil protection capacity must go hand in hand with further prevention efforts by member states. Prevention should be a major focus of disaster management and together with the response mechanism needs to be further developed.  The new mechanism should dovetail with other existing EU disaster response instruments, such as the humanitarian aid instrument. Proper coordination between the two instruments will ensure that the overall EU action is more consistent and effective both outside and within EU borders.

3.             A fair allocation of resources

The current Mechanism budget, which amounts to EUR 368 million for the 2014-2020 period, is paltry compared to the more than EUR 433 billion in economic losses caused by the extreme climate-related events which have hit the Member States since 1980.

A greater financial commitment should go hand in hand with an appropriate coordination role for the EU. The European Union will be expected to exercise full command over, and control of, any new European civil protection capacity.

Given that the Union will make full provision for the acquisition of resources for the new capacity, it will also retain possession of it.

Lastly, we wish to stress that citizens continue to trust in a European civil protection service: over the years, Eurobarometer data have constantly shown that 90% of respondents considered it important for the EU to help coordinate the response to disasters within its territory through its civil protection role.

Most EU citizens (56%) believe that their country does not have the means to cope with all major disasters alone. These figures show that civil protection is one of those areas where citizens do want to see more Europe.

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