Brussels, 5 March 2008
The European Commission today adopted a Communication on reinforcing the Union's Disaster Response capacity. In order to rise to the growing challenges posed by natural and man-made disasters, the communication proposes that the European Union strengthens its abilities at home and abroad to provide civil protection and humanitarian assistance. The Commission has undertaken a screening exercise of all its existing resources and puts forward as a first step an action plan of specific measures to be implemented before the end of 2008. As a concrete example, the communication includes a specific focus on how to improve the Union's response to forest fires.
The President of the Commission José Manuel Barroso stated: "When helping Tsunami victims in South Asia, evacuating EU citizens from war-torn Lebanon or fighting floods and forest fires in Europe – we can only protect our citizens and help others if we act together in solidarity. When responding to such disasters, Europe, as in so many other ways, is strongest when we combine our capacities and profit from our diversity and different expertise.
Major natural disasters such as the 2004 Tsunami in the Indian Ocean, crises such as in Lebanon, or more recently the forest fires and floods in Europe in the summer of 2007 and marine pollution episodes in third countries have led to increased calls for an effective EU disaster response capacity. Today's threats are often of a cross-border nature and require multilateral and coordinated responses. At the same time boundaries between internal and external threats are increasingly blurred: the Indian Ocean Tsunami affected European tourists as well as the local populations, floods and fires affect both EU Member States and neighbouring countries, and epidemics can spread from one continent to another. All this calls the Union to live up to the expectations of its citizens, who want an effective and efficient response to such threats inside the EU and in other parts of the world, where assistance is an important expression of European solidarity.
The Communication adopted today includes inter alia the following proposals:
This communication is a first step. It is based on the current institutional arrangements and does not pre-empt the new possibilities in the Treaty of Lisbon. The Commission believes that existing capabilities can already be strengthened through new synergies and better co-ordination of existing resources.
In the wake of the Asian tsunami, the Commission adopted a communication on reinforcing EU disaster and crisis response. The EU Presidency and the President of the Commission asked Michel Barnier in January 2006 to undertake a study of the EU's role in responding to crises; he issued his report on setting up a European Civil Protection Force in May the same year. The Commission also tabled a number of proposals (notably in the field of consular protection) and undertook a review of its internal coordination mechanisms. The December 2006 European Council invited future Presidencies to take work forward on all aspects of the Union's capacity to act. The Commission set up a task force to enable the Commission to deliver the most effective response to emergencies, crises and disasters both inside and outside the Union.
The Communication deliberately uses the notion "disaster" in a broad sense to cover both natural and man-made disasters, taking place within and/or outside the European Union.
A copy of the communication and an annex looking at the specific issue of forest fires can be found at: