Environment Committee MEPs vote to upgrade EU civil protection capacity

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Over one million hectares of forest have been destroyed by fires in the EU last year©AP Images/European Union-EP

This article is brought to you in association with the European Parliament

Upgrades to the EU civil defence mechanism, which was tested to its limits by deadly forest fires, storms and floods in 2017, were approved in committee on Thursday.

The aim is to help member states to respond faster and more effectively to natural and man-made disasters, by sharing civil protection assets more efficiently. The draft law would set up a “RescEU” reserve of assets such as forest fire-fighting planes, high-capacity pumps,  field hospitals and emergency medical teams, to use in all kinds of emergencies.

“RescEU” would be able to buy or lease its own equipment, in addition to that lent by member states.  It would provide relief when they cannot, t but must not be used to replace their own capacities and responsibilities, MEPs say.

“The current system has shown its limitations. We saw this last summer, during the emergency of the forest fires that hit several countries at the same time, with a dramatic outcome in terms of loss of life. Natural disasters have also intensified as a result of climate change. And it is essential to give a response at European level, and time to act!” said lead MEP Elisabetta Gardini (EPP, IT).

“The mechanism will not replace those existing at national and regional level, but will complement their work to ensure more security for European citizens, especially in the case of disasters of particular magnitude” she added.

MEPs also propose setting  up the equivalent of an Erasmus programme to promote cooperation among civil protection personnel.

The Environment Committee approved the text by 48 votes to 8, with5 abstentions.

Next steps

The draft law will be put to a vote by the full House at the 28-31 May plenary session in Strasbourg.

Background

Over 200 people were killed by natural disasters in Europe in 2017. Recent tropical cyclones have severely affected the EU’s outermost regions and the overseas territories in the Caribbean. Above all, 2017 saw a disastrous series of forest fires. Over one million hectares of forest were destroyed, almost three times the five-year EU average, half of which was in Portugal alone.

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