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European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response
Panel Discussion "Disaster relief in Europe Preparedness and Joint Aid"
Munich, 29 November 2011
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Disaster management is based on excellent advance planning. And I am now sure that the Hans Seidel Foundation would be excellent disaster managers since they have been able to plan this event to take place just a matter of weeks before the Commission brings out its legislative proposals for strengthened EU cooperation in civil protection. Today's panel could not be more topical.
Protection of their citizens is one of the most basic responsibilities of any government. And I would like to begin by underlining that the primary responsibility for disaster prevention, preparedness and response will always lie with regional and national governments. This principle is clearly enshrined in the European Treaties. But there are also a number of ways in cooperation at the EU level can make a real difference.
Firstly, when a disaster hits that overwhelms the local capacity to respond then vital additional assets and expertise can be deployed.
Secondly, joint efforts can be cost-effective. Individual governments no longer need to purchase equipment to deal singlehandedly with every possible disaster. At a time when public finances are increasingly tight this is a very strong argument.
Thirdly, the EU is in a unique position to coordinate the deployment of different European resources. Without clear coordination, there is a risk that assistance will be duplicated or that it will be ineffective.
Germany has a decentralised system for emergency response and it is an approach that works very well. Germans can also be very proud of the hundreds of thousands of professionals and volunteers involved in the civil protection systems. Other countries have more centralised systems that are based on full time emergency workers. And these also work very well.
There is no one size fits all European solution. Each member state has developed a system which matches its specific risk profile as well as its historical and political context. This is why our proposals are based on a "bottom up" philosophy. There will be no capacities managed by the European Union. The building blocks of any European response to disasters will remain the assets of Member States.
The key innovation we will propose will be a "pool" of experts and specialised equipment that will be available for an immediate deployment as part of a collective European intervention. Contributing assets to the "pool" will be entirely voluntarily. The assets would remain under the command and control of national and regional authorities. The final decision to deploy would also remain with these authorities. However, there would be a clear expectation that once committed to the "pool" these assets would be made available for a combined European response – unless they are needed at home or there is other compelling reasons why they cannot be deployed.
Having key assets pre-identified and ready to go will make a massive difference to our ability to respond. It will move us from the current system of ad hoc coordination to one where assistance can be delivered without delay and in a pre-planned manner. In situations where every hour counts this can save lives.
Out legislation will also contain initiatives to improve the quality of any European response.
Perhaps the most important innovation is that our legislation will look beyond disaster response and place a much greater emphasis on disaster prevention and risk management. Our intention is that these proposals will lay the foundation of a comprehensive disaster management policy for the European Union that covers the entire disaster cycle: from prevention, to response and ultimately post disaster recovery that builds in resilience to future disasters.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We live in a changing world where disasters are on the increase. The policy instruments that we have are well tested. But they will need to be substantially strengthened to meet the increased demands that are being placed upon them.
The legislative proposals that we are bringing forward will do exactly this. I look forward to working very closely with national and state authorities as we work to turn these proposals into an operational reality.