European Union — The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) issued a report today calling on EU member states to strengthen national and EU laws to ensure smooth access of cross-border assistance in the event of a major disaster. Many EU member states think of disaster assistance only as something they provide to others, noted Anitta Underlin, Director of the IFRCs Europe zone office, but climate change is changing disaster patterns and member states need to consider the possibility that they too may need to call on outside assistance in the future.
The report comes at the end of a two-year study undertaken by the IFRC and the National Red Cross Societies of Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, with support from the European Commission. The study examines existing EU legislation as well as the law in the six National Societies states to weigh their preparedness for the most common regulatory problems in receiving international disaster assistance, based on a set of international guidelines adopted by the state parties to the Geneva Conventions in 2007.
The study found that, in many areas, general EU rules facilitating border crossing, and member states traditions and bilateral agreements, have reduced the possibilities for bureaucratic bottlenecks in relief operations. However, gaps still remain. Many member states lack procedures for facilitating and regulating cross-border assistance by civil society institutions, observed Elise Baudot-Queguiner, IFRC Legal Counsel, yet institutions such as National Red Cross Societies have ample experience and training, as well as specialized relief goods and equipment that could make an important difference.
Another concern relates to the recognition of the credentials of foreign medical personnel. Without a speedy process of recognizing their qualifications, foreign doctors and nurses might be precluded from helping in future disasters, Baudot-Queguiner added. Although there is existing EU law on the process of recognition, it does not address crisis situations. The report identified a number of other gaps, ranging from ambiguities about liability and tax responsibility as well as issues related to customs clearance and visas for assistance arriving from outside the EU.
Drawing in part on the findings of the IFRCs study, the Belgian Presidency of the European Union has championed greater attention among member states and by the European Commission to the development of procedures for host nation support in situations of disaster. After formal discussions within the Civil Protection Working Group, the Belgian Presidency proposal for Council Conclusions on Host Nation Support was adopted by the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 2 December 2010.
We are very pleased that the Belgian Presidency has been able to make use of our work, and we look forward to offering our ongoing support to member states in strengthening their preparedness in this area, said Underlin.
The report is being launched in Brussels today at a panel event hosted by the European Policy Centre and featuring Peter Zangl, European Commission Director-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (DG ECHO), Elise Baudot-Queguiner, Legal Counsel at the IFRC, Jérôme Glorie, Director General of the Belgian Directorate-General for Civil Protection, and Johannes Richert, Head of International Services and National Relief at the German Red Cross.