Brussels seeks European disaster response force

Brussels seeks Europeandisaster response force

5 March 2008

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EU — The European Commission on Wednesday relaunched an initiative to createan EU civil protection force to intervene anywhere in the world in case of anatural or man-made disaster.

The idea was first advanced in 2006 but was blocked by several member stateswho had reservations about a pan-Europe body with such a broad mandate.

A spokesman for the Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said attitudes werechanging in light of disasters last summer including flooding, forest fires andstorm damage among member states.

“There is a common desire among member states to increase thecooperation, to look at filling the existing gaps,” European Commissionspokesman Mark Gray said.

But he admitted that previously “some member states have expressedconcern” over both the EU’s competence to take such action abroad and thelogistics involved.

“When you speak to the citizens when they are facing a forest fire theydon’t ask… is this the council or the commission, they are simply looking forsome help,” he told reporters in Brussels, referring to the resources ofthe member states versus those of the EU executive.

On top of its idea of a civil protection force, the EU executive alsopresented to member states and the European parliament a series of proposals toboost the capacity of the European Union to react in times of disaster.

These included setting up a Europe-wide disaster training network andimproving preparedness, including an early warning system for tsunamis in theMediterranean.

The Commission would also like to introduce a bloc-wide 112 emergencytelephone number for disaster aid and relief.

“When helping tsunami victims in South Asia, evacuating EU citizens fromwar-torn Lebanon or fighting floods and forest fires in Europe — we can onlyprotect our citizens and help others if we act together in solidarity,”said EU Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso in a statement.

The initiatives would cover man-made disasters such as some of the forestfires or oil slicks from tanker ships, both within the EU and elsewhere.

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