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Brussels, 31 July 2009

Questions and Answers on the Community Civil Protection Mechanism

What is the Community Civil Protection Mechanism?

The Community Civil Protection Mechanism was first established by Council Decision in 2001. Its purpose is to facilitate cooperation in civil protection assistance interventions in the event of a major emergency which may require urgent response action and also in situations where there may be an imminent threat of a major emergency. It is, therefore, an instrument that enhances Community cooperation in civil protection matters. The current legal framework governing the Mechanism consists of the Council Decision of 5 March 2007 establishing a Civil Protection Financial Instrument and the Council Decision of 8 November 2007 establishing a Community Civil Protection Mechanism (recast) 1 .

In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, the Mechanism can "add value" to European civil protection assistance by making support available at the request of an affected country. The Mechanism may be activated, for example, if the country in question is overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster and requests assistance. By pooling the civil protection capabilities of the participating states, the Mechanism can ensure better protection primarily of people, but also of the natural and cultural environment, and property.

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Why cooperate?

The aim of Community cooperation in the field of civil protection is to better protect people, their environment, property and cultural heritage in the event of major natural or man-made disasters occurring either within or outside the European Union.

The international role played by European countries in the provision of civil protection assistance is growing with each emergency. This can be seen in recent disasters, such as the South Asia tsunami in 2004, the hurricane in the United States and the Pakistan earthquake in 2005, the Indonesia earthquake and the crisis in Lebanon in 2006, or the forest fires in Greece in 2007.

Over time, the EU institutions and EU Member States have come to rely more and more on cooperation in the provision of civil protection assistance in order to be as effective as possible at the site of a disaster. There is clear added value in working together. Cooperation allows the pooling of resources, thereby maximising the combined European effort on site.

The management of natural and man-made disasters is a clear example of the value of action at Community level, where the responsibility of the national authorities of the affected country for dealing directly with disasters remains unchallenged but is facilitated and assisted by a concerted collective effort.

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Which countries participate in the Community Mechanism?

There are 30 countries participating in the Community Civil Protection Mechanism: they are the 27 current Member States of the European Union, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. Croatia will join the Mechanism shortly.

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The Mechanism's tools

The Community Civil Protection Mechanism has a number of tools at its disposal to facilitate both adequate preparedness and effective response to disasters at Community level. The Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) , plus the training and simulation exercises conducted within the framework of the Mechanism, are some of the main tools available.

The Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) is the operational "heart" of the Mechanism. It is operated by the European Commission's Directorate-General for Environment, based in Brussels, and is accessible 24 hours a day. It gives countries access to a platform, a "one-stop-shop" of civil protection resources that are available in the participating states. Any country within or outside the Union that is affected by a major disaster can appeal for assistance via the MIC. It acts as a communication hub at headquarters level between participating states, the affected country and the experts who are dispatched to the field. It also provides useful and updated information on the actual status of an ongoing emergency. Last but not least, the MIC performs a coordinating role by matching the offers of assistance from participating states to the needs of the disaster-stricken country.

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A training programme has also been set up with a view to improving the coordination of civil protection assistance interventions by ensuring compatibility and complementarity between the intervention teams from the participating states. It also enhances the skills of experts involved in civil protection assistance operations through the sharing of best practices. This programme involves training courses, the organisation of joint exercises and a system for the exchange of experts from participating states .

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The role of experts

When required, the MIC also deploys civil protection experts who have been seconded by participating states, mainly to operations outside the European Union. These experts have been trained by their national authorities and have also received training from the European Commission. Their tasks are set out in a brief that is specific to each new emergency. Generally speaking, however, their main role is to act as a link or liaison between the civil protection assistance from the participating states, the MIC and the recipient country. They are, in effect, the MIC's "eyes and ears" in the field. In certain situations, the MIC also deploys specialised experts. In 2006, for example, this involved sending volcanologists to Indonesia when the Merapi volcano erupted or dispatching bioremediation experts to an oil spill in the Philippines.

What is the role of the MIC in relation to forest fires?

The Mechanism can be activated for any kind of disaster which overwhelms the capacity of a country. Disasters include forest fires but also flooding, earthquakes, terrorist acts etc.

In the last two years, the MIC has been activated 15 times for forest fires. Participating countries, often those prone to forest fires themselves, typically offer assistance in the form of water bombing aircraft (Canadairs), helicopters, fire fighting equipment and personnel.

How is the European Union preparing for this year's forest fire season?

The Monitoring and Information Centre is actively monitoring the forest fire situation across Europe. It uses monitoring tools such as EFFIS (European Forest Fire Information System), which was developed by the European Commission Joint Research Centre, as well as national monitoring services.

Over the summer, the MIC also holds a weekly videoconference with national authorities from countries at greatest risk of forest fires to assess the risk of major forest fires that could exceed national capacity. A training course for forest fire experts was organised in Brussels in early July.

Following the devastating forest fires across much of Southern Europe in 2007, the European Parliament made available €3.5m for a pilot project to step up cooperation between Member States on combating forest fires. From 1 July – 30 September, two water bombing aircraft (Canadairs) will be on stand-by for deployment under Community Mechanism operations. The aeroplanes are leased by France and stationed on Corsica. The location was chosen as it offers the logistical support of an existing aerial base and allows the aircraft to be roughly equidistant from Lisbon, Athens and Sofia.

The planes will reinforce the EU response capability for forest fires in EU Member States. They will be an additional resource but not a replacement for European solidarity in the face of disaster.

Who pays for the assistance?

According to the implementing rules of the Mechanism, the state requesting assistance shall bear the costs of assistance provided by the Participating States.

However, the Participating State providing assistance may, bearing in mind in particular the nature of the emergency and the extent of any damage, offer its assistance entirely or partially free of charge.

In practice, the majority of Participating States offer assistance free of charge as a gesture of solidarity.

Since 2007, up to 50% of the costs of transporting assistance can be co-financed by the European Commission under the Civil Protection Financial Instrument.

What is the European Union doing on disaster prevention?

Several measures were taken at EU-level in response to the devastating forest fires in 2007. The forest fire monitoring system EFFIS was upgraded to include satellite tracking of ongoing fires and a six-day forecast. With additional funding from the EU budget, the European Commission carried out a pilot project for forest fire fighting (see table) and preparatory action on reinforcing the EU rapid response capacity. In addition, the European Commission is taking a long-term approach to prevention and published a Communication on a Community approach to the prevention of natural and man-made disasters earlier this year.

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What is the European Union Forest Fire Tactical Reserve?

The European Union Forest Fire Tactical Reserve (EUFFTR) is a pilot project to step up cooperation between Member States on combating forest fires. The project manager is France.

The EUFFTR consists of two fire-fighting planes (Canadair CL-215) that have been leased from the market. The planes are an additional European resource designed to reinforce the overall EU fire-fighting capacities.

Why are we doing this?

Every year, forest fires threaten people, landscapes, property and livelihoods in Europe. Because of their hotter climate, the South European countries are particularly at risk, but forest fires can develop anywhere in Europe. Sometimes, forest fires can surpass the capacity of a single country to tackle them. In that case, other countries can show solidarity by sending equipment such as fire-fighting planes to help.

When forest fires affect large areas of Europe and/or several Member States at once, even combined national capacities are not always sufficient. Member States calling for European assistance may receive only limited assistance, or in the worst cases might not benefit from any assistance. The EUFFTR can reinforce the overall European capacity and fill gaps in assistance.

How does the EUFFTR operate?

The EUFFTR consists of two planes that are available to fly 170 hours each from 1 July – 30 September. The EUFFTR can only be used within the EU. The planes are stationed in Bastia, Corsica. From there, mainland France and Italy are within a short flight distance; Lisbon in the West, Athens in the South East and Sofia in the East are roughly equidistant.

The EUFFTR is deployed within the context of the Community Civil Protection Mechanism.

When a Member State's national fire fighting capacities are overwhelmed by major fight forest fires, they can request assistance through the Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC), which is the operational heart of the Community Civil Protection Mechanism. The MIC will then explore whether assistance is available from other Member States. In 2007 alone, the Mechanism was activated twelve times by six countries in relation to major forest fires.

This summer, the EUFFTR can be deployed if other Member States cannot provide assistance because their resources are needed in their own territory, or they cannot reach the fire site quickly enough. The EUFFTR could also intervene jointly with aircraft from other Member States, in cases where a large additional resource is required.

The EUFFTR does not replace national means, but enhances European solidarity by providing an additional layer of civil protection capacity.

Who decides when to use the EUFFTR?

No country can request deployment of the EUFFTR directly. The EUFFTR is deployed by France, the project manager, based on advice from the MIC. The MIC evaluates the forest fire situation across Europe before it issues its advice. Where the use of the EUFFTR is judged to be an efficient option, France can offer the EUFFTR to the country requesting assistance.

Who finances the EUFFTR?

Following the devastating forest fires throughout Europe in the summer of 2007, The European Parliament promoted the idea of a pilot project on combating forest fires. Consequently, the Budgetary Authority (European Parliament and Council) earmarked €3.5 million for a pilot project on fighting forest fires in the 2008 EU budget.

The European Commission published a call for tender and selected the EUFFTR project proposed by France. The EU Forest Fire Tactical Reserve pilot project is co-financed to the level of 80% by the European Commission; the remaining 20% of the costs are met by France. The total cost of the project is €4.375 million.

Whenever the EUFFTR is used for an intervention to combat forest fires, the country requesting assistance covers the cost of fuel and other costs relating to the operation, e.g. accommodation for the pilots etc.

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What will be the outcome of the project?

The EUFFTR pilot project tests innovative arrangements in combating forest fires in Europe. In particular, it is designed to test whether it is effective to complement Member States' assets with additional capacities at EU level.

Another aspect of the project is assessing the cost-effectiveness of EU-level capacity. Civil protection is generally organised from local through regional to national level. The different levels are activated depending on the gravity of the emergency. This contributes to cost-effectiveness by enabling a rapid response locally, while guaranteeing the availability of further equipment at the next level. The EUFFTR pilot project extends this type of organisation to aerial fire fighting in the EU.

The project financing runs out at the end of 2009. The Commission will report to the European Parliament and the Council on the outcomes of the project. Based on the results of the project, Member States might decide that they want to further enhance this kind of European tactical reserve capacity. The results might also point to other possible solutions for enhancing European civil protection. A final report will be made available to the public.

Where can I find more information?

The European Commission's website for civil protection contains other information on the Mechanism and on the emergencies for which it has been activated. The website can be found on the EUROPA portal:

For a country outside the EU, you can contact the European Commission Delegations: .

For an overview of the EU's foreign policy on a particular country, please visit:

Other EU initiatives

Civil protection is just part of the work done by the European Union in relation to disasters. If the emergency occurs outside the European Union, the Union may also be providing humanitarian aid and/or development aid in the affected country.

Information for the press on Humanitarian aid may be accessed from here:

Information for the press on Development aid may be accessed from here: .

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