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As a central part of President Juncker’s agenda for a Europe that protects and in response to the high number of recent emergencies, the European Commission announced in November 2017 new plans to strengthen the EU’s civil protection to support Member States to better respond and prepare for natural and man-made disasters.

The EU Civil Protection Mechanism, established in 2001 in order to foster cooperation among national civil protection authorities across Europe, is currently based on a voluntary system. It includes all EU Member States in addition to Iceland, Macedonia, Montenegro, Norway, Serbia and Turkey. The EU coordinates the voluntary contributions of participating states to a country that has request assistance through the European Emergency Response Coordination Center (ERCC). The European Commission supports and complements the prevention and preparedness efforts of participating states, focusing on areas where a joint European approach is more effective than separate national actions. These include improving the quality of and accessibility to disaster information, encouraging research to promote disaster resilience, and reinforcing early warning tools.

What does the EU propose to improve the system?

On 23 November 2017, the European Commission has proposed to change current EU law to further improve disaster prevention, preparedness and response capacities.

“The tragedies of last summer and the past few years have shown that our current disaster response system has reached its limits in its existing voluntary format. The challenges we face have evolved, and so must we. It is a matter of solidarity and shared responsibility at all levels. This is what European citizens expect from us and I now look to European governments and the European Parliament to embrace this proposal” said Christos Stylianides, Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management.

The proposal focuses on two complementary pillars:

  • Strengthening European response capacities: rescEU
    An EU civil protection response reserve of civil protection assets will be established to assist Member States in responding to disasters, when national capacities are overwhelmed. This reserve will be called rescEU and will include assets, such as firefighting aircraft and water pumping equipment, which will complement national capacities. All costs and capacities of rescEU would be fully covered by EU financing, with the Commission retaining the operational control of these assets and deciding on their deployment. In parallel, the Commission will assist Member States in boosting their national capacities, by offering financial incentives. Concretely, the Commission proposes to cover the bulk of the costs that derive from the adaptation, repair, transport and operation of national contributions to the existing common pool. Inside the upgraded European Civil Protection Pool, these assets would be available for an EU crisis response at any given point of time.
  • Stepping up disaster prevention and preparedness
    In order to decrease the risks and impacts of potential disasters the Commission wants to work more closely with Member States, in reviewing national prevention and preparedness strategies and guiding them in their implementation to collectively identify and address possible gaps. In addition, the Commission wants to strengthen cooperation and coherence with existing EU policies dealing with prevention and preparedness, while also developing a European Civil Protection Knowledge Network, a European web of specialised training and exercise centres, in which best practice would be disseminated and joint EU exercises will be undertaken.

DG ECHO will hold an Information Day focusing on its work programme for civil protection. This event is scheduled for Thursday 25 January 2018 at the ERCC in Brussels. You will find more information here.