In light of the dramatic impact of climate change, which affects the whole of Europe, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) urges the European institutions to adopt further joint measures and policies under the rescEU proposal in order to respond to disasters more efficiently and effectively.
At its plenary on 18 October, the EESC presented its opinion on Strengthening the EU's civil protection response – rescEU to the Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides.
Mr Stylianides underlined the importance of the EESC's opinion, which reflects the voice of European citizens, and stressed that
the new rescEU is the first upgrade of the EU's civil protection response, which should plug the gaps in the current emergency response and focus on prevention. It will complement national systems, rather than replacing them. It should be a safety net.
The Commissioner also acknowledged that the proposal needed to look beyond responding to disasters and aim to be prepared to face them, saying that
we need to spend smarter, not least on R&D.
In his view, rescEU is an important tool for connecting with Europeans as it is a message of European solidarity.
The experience of recent years has shown that the current Union Civil Protection mechanism (UCPM), a system which is based on voluntary contributions from Member States, is insufficient to respond to major emergencies, emphasised EESC rapporteur, Dimitris Dimitriadis.
We need to educate and prepare all our generations, starting from the kindergarten, and we also need a common mechanism for the whole of Europe.
In order to make the system more efficient, the EESC believes that general principles and guidelines need to be developed, helping to achieve a common and modern legislative framework for early warning systems, volunteering and institutionalised involvement at all levels of civil protection and defining commitment rates for preventive measures in Members States' budgets.
In the EESC's view, an effective Union Civil Protection Mechanism must be built around three strands:
- Genuine European capacity which complements national systems and closes existing gaps. The Union should finance the acquisition of new resources, such as fire-fighting aircraft.
- Consistency of this capacity with existing instruments: the new mechanism should dovetail into existing EU disaster response instruments, such as the humanitarian aid instrument. The establishment of this European civil protection capacity must also be matched by further prevention efforts by Member States.
- Fair allocation of resources: the current budget is paltry. A greater financial commitment should go hand in hand with an appropriate coordination role for the EU.
In his statement, EESC president Luca Jahier stressed the human aspect:
We only have to look these disaster-stricken people in the eyes to understand that they need immediate help and support. This is why we need European solidarity: in order to be better prepared for all kinds of disasters.
Eurobarometer data show that Europeans continue to trust a European civil protection service. Around 90% consider it important for the EU to help coordinate the response to disaster within its territory, since a majority of EU citizens believe that their country does not have the resources to cope with all major disasters alone.