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rescEU: EU disaster management

23 November 2017
by eub2 -- last modified 23 November 2017

The European Commission has tabled a set of proposals to strengthen the EU's civil protection response and boost Europe's ability to better deal with natural disasters. The proposal establishes a dedicated reserve of operational capacities at Union level – rescEU – and strengthens preparedness and prevention measures. Concretely, it focuses on two key areas: creating the rescEU system to increase overall disaster response capacities available in the EU and investing more in prevention and preparedness.


Why is the Commission proposing rescEU as a new initiative now?

Disasters across Europe are becoming more frequent and complex. The effects of climate change and changing risks have seen many countries being seriously affected over recent years. The European Union has faced a large number of disasters with loss of lives and other damaging consequences for citizens, businesses, communities and the environment. In 2017 alone, 200 people were killed by natural disasters in Europe. The economic costs are huge too: close to €10 billion in damages on the European continent were recorded in 2016. The EU must respond to this challenge and better protect its citizens from these disasters.

The EU's current disaster response tools are limited and often not able to provide the assistance Member States ask for during a crisis or deliver it fast enough. This is because the EU's current Civil Protection Mechanism relies on a voluntary system and on extra capacities that Member States can offer to another country in need.

How will rescEU work operationally?

rescEU is essentially a reserve of assets used when Member States can't cope with a disaster themselves and require extra EU assistance that should be delivered fast. 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.

It would work as follows in a crisis situation:

1) A Member State decides to activate the EU Civil Protection Mechanism to request support when they are overwhelmed by a crisis (as can other countries and international organisations). To be clear: the European Commission cannot activate the Civil Protection Mechanism itself.

2) The Commission's 24/7 Emergency Response and Coordination Centre, based in Brussels, monitors and manages an information sharing system that all EU Member States use to make requests for assistance and detail what support they need. Immediately when a request for assistance is received, all participating states in the Mechanism are alerted of the request.

3) When capacities in the European Civil Protection Pool are insufficient to respond to a disaster, the Commission could then decide to deploy its own 'rescEU' capacities to support Member States' actions. Such capacities will be in the four areas of action; firefighting aircraft, high capacity pumping equipment for floods, urban search and rescue capacities, and field hospital and emergency medical assistance.

4) Once the required support is identified, it will be dispatched to the affected country. The Commission retains operational control of rescEU assets. During the operation, the affected country would ensure that activities involving rescEU capacities are executed in accordance with the operational deployment agreed with the Commission.

How will the EU support Member State solidarity through the use of national capacities in the European Civil Protection Pool?

The proposal includes a number of new provisions that will help Member States boost existing capacities and contribute more to the European Civil Protection Pool:

  1. Member States will receive significant EU co-financing of 75% to upgrade their national capacities. These will then become part of the European Civil Protection Pool and be made available to respond to disasters.
  2. If capacities are needed to respond to disasters in another Member State, the EU will co-finance the costs incurred for the deployment of assets that are part of the European Civil Protection Pool. The EU co-financing for assets that Member States put in the European Civil Protection Pool will be at 75% of operational costs when used inside the EU or a Participating State. Currently, the EU budget only finances a share of transport costs, but not the operational costs. However, in most operations getting from A to B is not the expensive part: operational costs are much higher than transport costs. For instance, the costs of transporting a large field hospital are just a fraction of its running costs that are some €6 million/month. Flying a plane from France to Portugal is also cheap when compared to the cost of operating it there for several days.
  3. The EU Civil Protection Knowledge Network will be established to support all civil protection actors across Europe. This will allow all disaster response actors to stay up-to-date and to speak "the same technical language".
  4. The Commission will work with Member States' to ensure that investments undertaken with Structural Funds are "disaster proof". This means that they will have to take into account the risk assessments that Member States provide. In addition, the Commission will be able to request national risk management and preparedness plans, monitor their implementation and make recommendations in national prevention and preparedness investments. In the long run, this is the most effective way to assist Member States in reducing losses and increasing their capacity to prevent, prepare for and respond to disasters.

European Civil Protection Pool: how many assets and from which countries?

The European Civil Protection Pool builds upon the already existing 'European Emergency Response Capacity', which was established in October 2014 and was commonly known as the voluntary pool. There are currently over 90 response capacities in the Pool, committed by 20 different Participating States. An overview is available here. These include assets such as firefighting teams and aircraft, flood containment, water purification, and Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear detection and sampling. However, due to the fact that disasters are occurring simultaneously, with increased frequency and complexity, experience has shown that these capacities are not enough.

The Commission will strengthen the European Civil Protection Pool by providing increased Union financing to Member States for the adaptation, repair and operating costs of any of the assets therein. This would provide an added incentive to Member States who would then commit their capacities to the European Civil Protection Pool.

Will this structure also work for civil protections activations outside the EU?

The proposal largely focusses on strengthening the EU and Member States' collective ability to respond to disasters at home.

For activations outside the EU and its Participating States, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism will continue to ensure the consistency of Union response in accordance with already existing legislation as well as by financing 75% of the transport costs of European Civil Protection Pool capacities.

The Participating States of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism (Iceland, Norway, Serbia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Turkey) will also benefit from the new possibilities offered under rescEU.

How does the proposal improve preparedness and prevention?

Prevention and preparedness are the cornerstones of an effective response to natural disasters. Investment in disaster prevention has a clear benefit– saving lives and livelihoods as well as minimising economic and physical damage. The proposal puts strengthening disaster prevention and reduction of risks at the core of planning and embeds risk assessment and reduction in the use of EU funds.

The EU proposes to do this by:

  • Engaging Member States in better assessing risk and planning for effective preparedness and prevention. For example, if we know an area is prone to flooding, we should make sure that houses, businesses and the environment are protected accordingly. Or where we know elderly people live in isolated rural areas at risk of forest fires, preparedness plans need to be in place to help them evacuate.

  • Making sure the best available European expertise is trained together. Assets and teams should easily operate side by side across borders and be located close to where disasters may strike. This also concerns the sharing of knowledge and lessons from previous disasters. All these aspects will be promoted through an EU Civil Protection Knowledge Network.

Member States will need to prepare prevention and preparedness plans which the Commission will review helping those Member States that require additional support.

How many times has the EU Civil Protection Mechanism been activated over the last two years?

Over the last two years (2016 and 2017), the Mechanism has been activated a total of 56 times both inside and outside the EU.

If agreed by Parliament and Council, how much will the Commission's proposal cost?

The budgetary impact of this proposal is estimated at an additional €280 million for the remaining Multiannual Financial Framework period (2018-2020).

Source: European Commission