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Raising our game on disaster preparedness and response

Commission Européenne - SPEECH/12/823   15/11/2012

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European Commission

Kristalina Georgieva

European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection

Raising our game on disaster preparedness and response

Workshop on the EU Civil Protection Mechanism "The Commission Proposal" / Brussels

15 November 2012

Ms Gardini,

Ms Estrella,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be invited back to the European Parliament.

Thank you Mrs Gardini for taking the initiative of holding this workshop and I would also like to thank the Parliament for its consistent and vocal advocacy for an ambitious EU approach to disaster management. In fact we owe Parliament a debt since many of the ideas we are now working on originate from ideas first put forward by MEPs.

It was at the very end of last year that the Commission put forward its legislative proposal on Civil Protection that is aimed at delivering a more efficient, effective and rapid response to disasters as well as promoting prevention and preparedness actions.

We have had excellent discussions since then and I am also pleased to be able to report that the main ideas contained in our proposal have been welcomed by Member States. We are also very encouraged by the support in Mrs Gardini's excellent report and the constructive amendments that have been tabled.

Context: why we need to raise our game

Climate change, population growth, urbanisation and industrial development mean that disasters strike increasingly often and that they cause more harm to our people and our economies.

2011 was the most expensive year ever in terms of disaster-caused damage ($366 billion, compared to $243 billion in the last record year of 2005).

In the last two weeks we have seen the US devastated by Hurricane Sandy (provisional estimates of damage of up to US$ 50 billion) and severe flooding in northern Italy.

The recent "Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation" (SREX report) made it clear that these trends will continue. It was written by 220 scientists from more than 60 countries and it paints a sobering picture of a future that will be increasingly hit by heat waves, droughts, floods and storm surges. Our world is changing and increased fragility is a fact of life.

Responding to this situation is the main why Europe needs to strengthen its system of collective civil protection. There are more disasters that overwhelm national capacities and we need better instruments of collective response so that fewer lives are lost and less damage is inflicted.

EU value added

There are ways in which EU cooperation results in an improved collective response.

First, working together means that more assets are available. The primary responsibility for disaster prevention, preparedness and response lies with national governments. This is the case today and it will remain the case in the future. Let me be crystal clear: our legislative proposal does not in any way alter this fundamental principle. But at the same time no country can be expected to invest in preparing for every possible eventuality. When a major catastrophe hits we need to have a mechanism in place which allows us to pool and deploy the sum of Europe's civil protection capacity. This is not only more effective in terms of response but is also more cost-effective.

Second, working together means that we can avoid duplication and make sure that the European assistance is delivered as a coordinated package. This relieves the disaster-affected country of much of the organizational burden that comes with receiving aid from abroad. The more concerted the European response, the better it also fits under any global UN coordination umbrella.

Example – Japan 2011

  • Even the best prepared country can find itself overwhelmed. Japanese government needed outside assistance – but explicitly requested that European assistance be coordinated and delivered as a single package.

  • We responded by channelling almost 400 tons of in-kind assistance through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

  • This resulted in considerable cost-efficiency gains on the EU side by grouping cargo from different Member States on the flights to Japan.

  • Also much easier for the Japanese to accept assistance at a time when their emergency services stretched to the full.

Third, joint training and exercises allow us to learn from each other and strengthen national disaster management systems .

The last 10 years have demonstrated the clear benefits that come from working together. There have been 290 activations of the mechanism: which is not just a statistic but it means lives saved and damages prevented.

The advantages of common actions are well understood by our citizens - 89% believe that the EU should actively help Member States deal with crises at home and that it should also support disaster victims abroad.

What we are proposing

The Commission's proposal is not proposing a revolutionary change in the way that we carry out our business. We aim to build on an established system that already works well. We aim to develop a system where 144 modules have already been committed by Member States.

The central idea behind the legislative proposal is that Europe needs to move away from an ad hoc response to one which is pre-planned, predictable, and immediate. At present, the deployment of EU civil protection assets is based purely on voluntary ad hoc offers of Member States' assistance. There is an inevitable degree of improvisation and decisions are sometimes delayed. In situations where every hour counts, Europe needs a system that is pre-planned and can guarantee that key assets from the MS can be mobilized swiftly.

The Commission has proposed four key initiatives:

1. The starting point for all disaster managers needs to be an accurate understanding of the risks we are facing. This is why the Commission has proposed that Member States prepare risk management plans.

An understanding of risk will become the departure point for develop contingency plans for a collective European response to major disasters. These plans will help us to exchange best practice and learn from each other in addressing these risks. They will help us identify where additional investments are needed in disaster prevention. Preparing to face the main risks will form the basis of targeted training and exercises.

2. We ask Member States to voluntarily place core resources on standby. By doing this we will create a pool of assets and experts which will deliver a number of benefits compared to the current set-up:

(a) Instant deployment of a European response whenever the need arises.

(b) More coordinated deployment decisions = more coherent response.

(c) Clearer financing arrangements = less cumbersome and faster decisions.

The voluntary pool is a form of increased commitment for those Member States that want to participate. In return they will be able to benefit from higher co-financing rates, e.g. for transport.

The final decision for deployment will in each and every case be made by the MS themselves. We would hope that once assets have been committed that decisions not to deploy will remain the exception to the rule. But it is clear that there may be cases where there are good reasons for withholding assets from a specific mission.

3. The Commission's support to Member States in accessing transport has allowed substantially more assistance to be offered. In the new legislation, we propose to build on this success by streamlining procedures and providing higher levels of co-financing. At the same time, we propose to put stricter conditions to ensure that the assistance provided has the highest possible added value.

4. Finally, there may be cases where EU funded assets can fill gaps in Member States' collective response capacity. This is particularly likely in the case of high impact / low-probability risks where it can be most cost effective to share expensive assets between several countries (e.g. specialised marine pollution equipment to deal with spills at sea).

We owe it to our taxpayers to explore all opportunities for improving cost effectiveness and this is what our legislation proposes. This is a sensitive issue for some MS and to avoid any risk of "moral hazard" the Commission has proposed the following guarantees:

  • EU funded assets would only be considered after a cost benefit analysis concludes that there is a serious capacity gap and that a collective response is the most cost effective approach.

  • They would only be decided upon following a joint decision by Member States and the Commission.

  • It would be the Member States and not the EU who would be operationally responsible for these assets.

Ladies and Gentlemen

The adoption of the legislative proposal will increase the security of our fellow citizens and also allow a better protection of disaster victims worldwide.

What I envision is an EU that sufficiently invests in prevention, that promotes safer, less vulnerable communities, and that responds to disasters in a swift and effective manner both here at home and in solidarity with people worldwide.

We need Parliament's support to address the challenges that I have outlined. I look forward to Parliament adopting a final position that reflects the high level of ambition that it has always taken with regard to EU Civil Protection.

Thank you


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