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Kimmo Kohvakka: Finnish concept of comprehensive security – a source of ideas for rescue services cooperation in Europe

EU2019FIMinistry of the Interior
Publication date 9.10.2019 9.28

European cooperation in the field of rescue services and civil emergency preparedness is becoming more crucial in the changing operating environment in Europe. The consequences of climate change, for example, are concretely visible in the practical work of the European authorities responsible for rescue and preparedness. Extreme weather phenomena, such as floods, storms and drought, are on the increase, putting the crisis resilience of societies to the test.

The extended periods of heat and severe wildfires experienced in recent years will challenge the capacities and preparedness of member states’ authorities in an unprecedented manner. Over the past few years, climate change has been further accelerated by large-scale forest fires, ranging from the Arctic to the Amazon. While each country is in charge of its preparedness for different types of crisis situations, the consequences of climate change cannot be adequately addressed without international collaboration.

Union Civil Protection Mechanism comes in when national response capacities are lacking

The EU plays an important role in the security of citizens and in anticipating new kinds of threats. Its Civil Protection Mechanism draws on the member states’ human and equipment resources, now being pooled into a single European reserve. EU countries can send assistance through this reserve whenever one or more of them have been hit by an emergency or a natural disaster of an exceptional scale. Such aid can be delivered within the EU and also to other parts of the world. The latest example of the performance of the Civil Protection Mechanism was the joint effort of 10 member states to send expert and material assistance to Albania, which has suffered earthquakes and floods caused by heavy rainfall.

A new resource, rescEU capacities, will be developed under the Civil Protection Mechanism for mobilisation in cases where national response capacities are overwhelmed. The rescEU capacities include aerial wildfire fighting equipment that can be called to aid in emergencies once all other resources have been exhausted.

Sweden, Spain and France are among those member states that already have committed to the new reserve firefighting planes and helicopters, for which substantial EU funding is available. The reserve is built on the principle that while equipment purchased with EU funding can be used in individual member states, it must be made available through the Civil Protection Mechanism upon request.

Rescue authorities challenged by new threats 

Finland is intent on promoting the comprehensive security approach on European forums, too. The Finnish concept of comprehensive security presents a model of responding to complex and emerging threats through collaboration between public authorities, businesses, NGOs and citizens.

The directors-general for civil protection from EU member states will meet in Helsinki on 9–10 October 2019 to discuss, among other things, new ways to address the changed threats, including severe wildfires and hybrid threats.

In this meeting, the Finnish Presidency will present its ideas on preparedness for new kinds of threats that habitually have not figured at the top of the agenda of rescue authorities. Preparing for different kinds of threats – hybrid, chemical, biological, nuclear and radiation threats – requires, above all, effective cooperation between the different actors concerned.

Finland would like to see the Union Civil Protection Mechanism enhanced to flexibly respond even to more diverse risks. One of the new features might include expert resources to assist countries hit by emergencies involving widespread telecommunications and power outages, for example.

In recent years, European cooperation in rescue services and civil emergency preparedness has expanded from the more customary rescue assistance to extensive, multisectoral cooperation (civil protection). For this reason, the designation ‘crisis management’ has now been aptly included in the title of the portfolio of the new Commissioner-designate responsible for this area. Assuming an active role in fostering cooperation even beyond the Finnish Presidency will continue to be in the country’s best interests.

Kimmo Kohvakka, Director General for Rescue Services, Ministry of the Interior