RescEU: MEPs vote to upgrade EU civil protection capacity

Firefighters Portugal 2018

Christos Stylianides at the podium behind the firefighters. © European Union , 2017 / Source: EC – Audiovisual Service / Photo: Bruno Portela.

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

Proposals to upgrade the EU civil defence mechanism, which was tested to its limits by deadly forest fires, storms and floods in 2017, were approved in Parliament 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, for 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, but must not be used to replace their own capacities and responsibilities, MEPs say.

“We really have to put an end to tragedies like those we saw last year in Portugal, where 100 people lost their lives”, said lead MEP Elisabetta Gardini (EPP, IT). “We had to recognise that, when several member states are facing an emergency at the same time, the solidarity between countries that exists today is not enough. The collective capacity of the European Union was asked to respond to 17 simultaneous requests for aid, but was able able to respond to only 10, and in some cases even with delays. Now, thanks to RescEU, to the work we have all done together, we can prevent situations like this happening again” she added.

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

Next steps

The report was approved by 431 votes to 99, with 97 abstentions. Parliament and Council will enter into negotiations to agree on a common text once ministers have agreed their common position.

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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