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Member of the European Commission responsible for Information Society and
Conference on the Single European Emergency No. 112
The single European emergency number, 112, is a tool of enormous potential benefit to European citizens in the context of the Single Market. It is vital that the many millions of us who travel, whether for business or leisure, are able to use an emergency number which is easy to remember.
This is why I decided to make 112 one of the priorities of my action for the months to come. I take great interest in the progress made so far in the Member States, but I believe there is still some way to go in achieving the goals set by the European Parliament and the Council in the Universal Service Directive.
I am therefore delighted that, thanks to joint efforts from the Member States and the Commission, I can announce that all fixed and mobile phones in the EU can now be used to call 112. The purpose of today’s conference is specifically to identify the remaining challenges and try to find practical ways to address them.
Why we are here today
The Commission is very much aware that the implementation of the Directive is by no means an easy process. This conference brings together, for the first time, national administrations from the 25 Member States with competences both in civil protection and electronic communications, in order to discuss the issues at stake.
We are also welcoming participants from EEA, accession and candidate countries. Some of the Member States have put in place extremely interesting and innovative solutions, which they will be invited to present to all of you in the course of the day.
We hope that, by exchanging views and experiences, and by building on best practice at European level, we will be able to improve the general level of service delivered through 112.
There are three points to which I would like to draw your attention.
1. Caller location information.
You will be aware that the Directive requires that operators make caller location information available to emergency services. In addition, the Commission issued a Recommendation in 2003 on the technical aspects of this facility.
It seems that network operators have the technical capacity to provide caller location information in most or even all Member States. However, there are still practical problems with the provision of this information. Such a situation is leading to delays which cannot be tolerated any more: it is now time to work together on this subject and to come up with a solution.
I would urge those responsible for implementing caller location information to step up their efforts to ensure that it is actually available, within the shortest possible timeframe.
I would also like to emphasise the fact that this type of information cannot provide any added value unless it can actually be used by the emergency authority.
We all know that, in such situations, knowledge of the caller’s exact location can save a lot of time, which may be crucial. Emergency services that have not yet done so are invited to upgrade their equipment to benefit from this extremely important and potentially life-saving technology.
I understand that the Spanish centres can locate in real time calls from fixed and, above all, mobile phones, and thus are able to dispatch emergency services quickly to where they are needed. Time saved through the introduction of new technologies can, in turn, save lives. This is also the logic behind the eCall initiative, in which the Commission is playing a key role, alongside national authorities and the industry.
2. Availability of foreign languages
In the context of the ever-growing number of travellers in the EU, the language capabilities of emergency centres should be enhanced. The Commission is following with great interest the efforts undertaken by some Member States to tackle this issue.
Enhancing linguistic capabilities can be achieved by training emergency operators in foreign languages, relying on interpreters via a conference call mechanism and so on.
The Czech Republic has largely transformed the organisation of its emergency service to meet the demands of 112, taking the linguistic factor into account right from the beginning. The Czech’s will share their experience with you today.
It is a fact that, in each of the EU countries, the increased mobility of citizens poses new challenges to emergency services, which I hope they will be able to tackle with an even greater efficiency in the future.
3. Raising awareness of 112.
On the one hand, 112 is an emergency number which can of course be used at home and abroad. Many Member States advertise 112 as an emergency number alongside others in public payphones and directories.
This is obviously necessary, but it is now time to go even further. We should set ourselves as an objective to increase the number of European citizens who are aware of the existence of 112. I believe the initiatives of countries like Latvia and Finland, that have introduced a special TV programme dedicated to this number, are a step in the right direction.
On the other hand, 112 is a number which can be called in any type of emergency, requiring the intervention of an ambulance, the fire brigade or the police. European citizens are not always aware of the circumstances under which this number should be used.
The Commission will seek to promote the use of this number, but its commitment can only have an effect if Member States also take serious action, which would go far beyond what has been done so far.
In the coming weeks, my services and those of Commissioner Dimas will propose an expert group dealing specifically with 112, gathering delegates from the relevant public bodies to look at practical ways to remedy shortcomings identified so far. This should ensure an appropriate follow-up to the conference, and I will look with great interest at the progress made within the group.
I am confident that this day will prove fruitful in giving an opportunity for Member States to exchange views and experiences extensively. I hope that this initiative jointly undertaken by DG Information Society and Media and DG Environment will also meet your expectations and enable us to work together towards a better 112 service.
Thank you for your attention.