Set up in 2001, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism seems to no longer be sufficiently capable of responding to disasters linked to climate change and multiple catastrophes, such as the current war in Ukraine. In the opinion Consolidating the EU-Civil Protection, EESC civil society representatives propose establishing a European agency that would link civil protection and humanitarian aid in a more consistent way. At the same time, it could pave the way towards stronger foreign policy actions.
The Union Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM) provides a network of mutual assistance and solidarity on disaster risk management within and beyond EU borders. It brings together the 27 EU Member States and 6 participating countries: Iceland, Montenegro, Norway, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey.
Despite the reinforcement and legal adaptation of the UCPM in May 2021, the war in Ukraine has demonstrated the urgent need to build on the mechanism and connect the links between civil protection and humanitarian aid in a more coherent way.
The opinion on Consolidating the EU Civil Protection Mechanism in order to improve the EU's capacity to react in the face of extreme events, including those occurring outside its territory was issued upon the French presidency's request (this issue being one of its main priorities in this area), and was debated at the EESC March Plenary.
Christophe Quarez, EESC member and rapporteur of the opinion, commented,
With all these new challenges, and especially with the war in Ukraine, we feel that the mechanism does not have enough and efficient tools. The proposal for the creation of a European civil protection and humanitarian aid agency will help, in the best possible way, the Ukrainian population, whose needs are enormous and grow every day. It will also better address other issues related to disasters and humanitarian crisis situations.
Violeta Jelić, co-rapporteur of the opinion, underlined the difference between emergency response and humanitarian aid, and stressed,
Civil protection needs to be better recognised and valued by all participant countries in this pure act of solidarity and sense of belonging.
The opinion clearly demonstrates that the link between civil protection and humanitarian aid needs to be more structural. Additionally, the EESC believes that the creation of a European civil protection humanitarian aid agency could more effectively manage issues such as natural disasters related to climate change, the fight against maritime pollution and industrial risks, and the consequences of cyber-attacks on water and electricity infrastructures.
The EESC also supports the idea of a joint disaster management, first response transnational team with their own resources, joint training, and means and equipment standardisation.
The foreign policy dimension of the civil protection mechanism
The EESC considers that the diplomatic dimension of EU civil protection is not sufficiently developed towards the EU's immediate neighbourhood, notably the Balkans, or towards African countries or those bordering Russia.
Given that the European Union has been sending humanitarian aid to neighbouring countries, showcasing a leading role, the civil protection mechanism can become a powerful tool in the EU's toolbox to exert foreign policy in a more dynamic way.
This foreign policy dimension should be exploited in several ways, such as by strengthening the pre-accession process of candidate countries to the EU, reducing China and Russia's impact on countries of geopolitical importance, and by engaging with countries under Russian influence.
Against this background, the EESC also encourages a proposal for a legislative amendment to authorise automatic and immediate responses under the mechanism in the event of a man-made disaster crisis inside or outside EU territory. In the form of a taskforce, this resource may contribute to establishing a robust external element of EU relations through civil protection.
To this end, the scope of the mechanism needs to be reviewed, as accession candidate countries must respect the mechanism rules, which are aligned with European fundamental values.
The president of the EESC External Relations section, Dimitris Dimitriadis, also underlined the mechanism's importance, noting that civil protection needs to be reinforced, as it is an important tool for EU external relations.
Present circumstances with climate change and unforeseen man-made disasters call for a strong, improved, well-structured and dynamic EU civil protection mechanism which can respond immediately to extreme events occurring inside and outside the Union's territory.