Members of the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee have voted to call on member states of the EU to spend more on civil protection measures in the case of emergencies like floods, forest fires and even major disease epidemics.
The EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism was created in 2013, with member states participating on a voluntary basis, as a response to an increasing number of natural disasters.
The mechanism allows for member states to pool their resources to come to the aid of countries suffering from events such as earthquakes and fires. In 2017, for example, it was triggered 18 times to deal with forest fires in Portugal, Italy, Montenegro, France, and Albania.
More recently, it was used to help repatriate some 78,000 EU citizens stranded around the world by the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as another 10,000 non-citizens.
Another part of the mechanism is the rescEU reserve of medical equipment such as ventilators, protective masks and laboratory supplies, paid for from the Commission’s budget and stocked in one of the member states, while at the disposal of all.
The first rescEU intervention involved masks and disinfectant, followed by 370,000 FFP2 face masks from stores in Romania and Germany and delivered to Italy, Spain, Croatia, Lithuania, Montenegro and North Macedonia.
However according to the members of the committee, funding needs to be revised upwards in the light of the Covid-19 emergency. Not only did that highlight some critical management problems, it also showed showed how a system devised for isolated events like weather emergencies came under severe pressure from an event that affected all member states at once.
The committee is now proposing an increase in the budget it approved in March of €1.4 billion.
“There is a need for more EU solidarity,” said the committee’s rapporteur, Nikos Androulakis.
“Our proposals will better protect and assist European citizens, no matter in which member state they reside, improve preventive actions and give the Commission the possibility to acquire, rent or lease the necessary capacities. Parliament is ready to start the negotiations. We want the Mechanism ready to address not only a possible second wave of the pandemic or forest fires but any other natural or man-made disaster in the future.”
The committee’s proposal will come before the plenary session later this month, after which Parliament will begin talks with member states with a view to having the new mechanism ready for 2021.