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EU Civil Protection Mechanism must respond to increasingly complex threats

The Union Civil Protection Mechanism has developed into a key tool in the field of international assistance. The Mechanism facilitates response to all types of natural and man-made disasters, such as major emergencies, technological, chemical and environmental accidents, and consequences of terrorist acts. Finland’s Presidency proposes to reinforce the Mechanism’s capacity to respond to increasingly complex threats and risks, such as chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats, extreme weather events, hybrid threats and threats to critical infrastructure (e.g. power plants).

The best way to respond to unconventional, diverse and complex threats is through a system that facilitates smooth cooperation between public authorities and society at large. One example of such a system is the Finnish concept of comprehensive security, a cooperation-based preparedness model where public authorities, businesses, NGOs and citizens work together to secure the functions vital to society.

International cooperation in crisis preparedness is also becoming increasingly important. For example, CBRN threats (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats) know no borders and can affect several countries simultaneously.

The wildfires that hit Sweden in summer 2018, for instance, showed that close, Europe-wide collaboration in civil protection is vital.

Helping countries confronted with overwhelming crises

Any country can request assistance via the Union Civil Protection Mechanism if the scale of an emergency or disaster exceeds their response capacity. The request for assistance is then coordinated by the Commission's Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC).

The assistance is based on national resources made available by the participating states. EU funding can be sought to further develop these resources. The assistance may take the form of specialised rescue teams or expert and material assistance. Often, the assistance is provided to countries outside Europe. Examples include earthquakes in Nepal, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and more recently the cyclone and floods in Mozambique. However, the largest EU civil protection operation in one country thus far was when emergency forces were mobilised to fight the wildfires in Sweden in 2018.

European Commission: EU Civil Protection Mechanism

RescEU provides reserve of civil protection resources

New legislation to strengthen the EU’s collective response to disasters with a system known as rescEU entered into force in March 2019. RescEU was designed to enable member states to respond to natural and man-made disasters quicker and more efficiently. It improves the allocation of civil protection resources among member states and participating countries.

The goal is to build an EU-wide safety net for countries facing severe crises. In the first phase, rescEU will consist of aerial firefighting equipment to combat wildfires. Sweden, for instance, has already added six firefighting helicopters to the reserve.

The aim during Finland’s Presidency is to continue the discussion on strengthening the Civil Protection Mechanism and the rescEU system. Finland wants to promote discussion on how the mechanism could be further developed to respond not only to traditional threats but also to emerging threats such as combinations of CBRN and hybrid threats.

Next, the EU Commission aims to take rescEU to a more concrete level and make it ready for increasingly complex threats.

European Commission 21 May 2019: Questions and answers – EU that protects: The EU’s plan to strengthen civil protection has entered into force

Inquiries

Veera Parko, Director for International Affairs (Department for Rescue Services), Ministry of the Interior, tel. +358 295 488 442, veera.parko(at)intermin.fi