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Procedure : 2011/2023(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A7-0283/2011

Texts tabled :

A7-0283/2011

Debates :

PV 27/09/2011 - 3
CRE 27/09/2011 - 3

Votes :

PV 27/09/2011 - 8.9
Explanations of votes
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :


Debates
Tuesday, 27 September 2011 - Strasbourg OJ edition

3. European disaster response: role of civil protection and humanitarian assistance (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. – The first item is the report by Elisabetta Gardini, on behalf of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, on ‘Towards a stronger European disaster response: role of civil protection and humanitarian assistance’ (Α7-0283/2011).

 
  
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  Elisabetta Gardini, rapporteur.(IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, I really must thank everyone who, over recent weeks and months, has helped to produce the document on which we are voting in this Chamber today.

I have to say we worked very well and a really constructive debate was developed. The motion for a resolution that we are voting on today is the outcome of a truly joint effort, with contributions from all the political groups and from Parliament as a whole. I believe everyone has come to share very strong feelings on this subject, not least because we have to remember that we are living in a period marked by an exponential increase in disasters.

The figures in all their starkness speak for themselves: the number of disasters in the world has risen fivefold; just think that 78 catastrophic events were recorded in 1975, whereas today, we have nearly 400 disasters every year. Over the past 20 years, disasters have sadly killed 90 000 people and affected more than 29 million, while economic losses have amounted to EUR 211 billion.

We are clearly facing problems on such a scale that they require a more vigorous and effective response and a really strong commitment on our part. We all have images in our minds of the earthquake in Haiti, the floods in Pakistan and what happened in Japan. Europe itself witnesses flash floods and forest fires within its territory every year, and we all remember the ash cloud after the volcanic eruption in Iceland.

There is no need to go any further to demonstrate the importance of the work being done here in Parliament, based on two fundamental principles which are our guiding stars: the principle of solidarity, which is reinforced by the solidarity clause in the Treaty of Lisbon, and the principle of subsidiarity. We are working along these lines.

Past interventions by the European Union have always been generous and effective – I think the tireless work done by Commissioner Georgieva bears witness to that – but today, we need to make a qualitative leap. We must be prepared to make a qualitative leap from ad hoc responses to responses that are enhanced through the prior identification of the assets available in the Member States that can be placed at the disposal of the European Civil Protection Mechanism.

Moreover, it is also important to emphasise the crucial role that services such as the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security programme (GMES) can play in this qualitative leap and in moving on from information sharing and emergency response to the planning, monitoring and coordination role that we want. I also take this opportunity to mention the concern that exists at what is happening to the budget for these essential new technologies.

We have included the importance of communicating with the public, because the Japanese experience has clearly taught us that one can never do this enough. We are also asking the Commission to come up with a legislative proposal on civil protection as soon as possible.

 
  
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  Kristalina Georgieva, Member of the Commission. – Madam President, I am very grateful for the debate today and very grateful to Mrs Gardini for leading the preparation of the report. As she so clearly stated, we live in a world where the frequency and intensity of disasters is on the increase, and climate change, population growth and urbanisation, as well as terrorism, put us at a higher risk.

We have witnessed over the years the role that Parliament has played in creating a high level of ambition to make solidarity work for European citizens and for the citizens of the world. I would quote the initiatives taken on the EU Forest Fire Tactical Reserve, on creating multi-country pilot modules like the BaltFloodCombat module, as well as on bringing transportation capacity to bear. We saw how much it helped us during the Libya crisis.

Against that background of growing needs, the Commission has taken its responsibility very seriously, and has put forward the communication that is now to be turned into a legislative proposal, for which I very much count on Parliament’s help.

That communication is based on four very important principles. The first is to respect the primary role of Member States in securing the safety of their citizens. Therefore, what we have put forward is a ‘bottom-up’ approach where we bring the assets of Member States together for collective action when either a Member State or a third country is overwhelmed by a disaster.

Second, we recognise that we must be better in anticipating risks so that we can act decisively when they materialise. Therefore, we raise the role of the Commission in bringing Member States into scenario plannings.

Third, there is a very important move away from the ad hoc response we currently have to one that is pre-planned, pre-arranged and predictable.

Fourth, we are very mindful of the tough budgetary times in Europe, so we are looking at ways in which working together will create savings for Member States. In this sense, the proposal which we have designed is a very modest increase, at the level of the Commission, from EUR 25 million to EUR 65 million, but generates on that basis not only high impact but also savings for Member States.

Let me finish with one very crucial point. We are doing this for our citizens, and over 90% of them want us to act together in the face of disasters. We owe it to them to do exactly that.

 
  
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  Michèle Striffler, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Development.(FR) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, given the proliferation of major natural disasters and current budgetary pressure, the European Union must substantially strengthen its disaster response capacity and make optimum use of its limited resources.

Following numerous calls from our House, the European Commission should clearly draw up ambitious legislative proposals as quickly as possible, but not later than by the end of 2011, to create at last a genuine EU civil protection force. This would entail some Member States committing to make pre-identified and immediately deployable civil protection assets available on a voluntary basis for EU disaster relief interventions in the event of major disasters. I welcome the recent communication from the Commission on the multiannual financial framework 2014-2020 which has a budget of EUR 455 million for the Civil Protection Mechanism and which attaches great importance to disaster preparedness and prevention.

Finally, the Commission must make active efforts to ensure the visibility of the resources and capacities deployed in the field, particularly through the use of EU symbols in conjunction with national badges.

 
  
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  Georgios Stavrakakis, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Regional Development. (EL) Madam President, firstly, I should like to congratulate the rapporteur on the excellent work she has done and to express my satisfaction, both at the particular emphasis placed on forest fire prevention and management and at the fact that the main positions expressed in the Committee on Regional Development have been incorporated into the final text.

The Committee on Regional Development mainly wishes to emphasise the fact that the solidarity clause introduced in Article 222 of the Treaty of Lisbon can, and must, provide an important basis for further reinforcement and support, on the part of the European Union, of action by the Member States in the civil protection sector.

Moreover, we reiterate the role and the responsibility of regional and local authorities, the important role of the European Regional Development Fund, and the need to utilise the valuable experience gained at regional level under INTERREG programmes and, finally, that coastal, insular and mountainous areas are extremely vulnerable to disaster on account of their geography.

To close, I should like to ask the Commissioner to comment on point 7 of the report on the establishment of an EU civil protection force.

 
  
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  Richard Seeber, on behalf of the PPE Group.(DE) Madam President, I would like to express my sincere thanks to the rapporteur. She has done the right thing and kept the own-initiative report to a minimum, addressing only the essential issues that Parliament wants to include in the legislative proposal that the Commission will propose this autumn. It would not have been right to inflate the report. Instead, we must now debate just the basic principles.

It is clear to all of us that this could affect any Member State. A natural disaster or technical disaster could descend upon it, causing a great deal of human suffering and enormous economic damage. The scale of the damage has, of course, been mentioned many times. In recent years, we have noticed that this damage is increasing considerably and the degree of interconnectivity and complexity of our societies is increasing. A logical consequence of this is that greater action needs to be taken by Europe. In its proposal, therefore, the Commission ought to take into consideration – as the Commissioner has already mentioned – the fact that, first and foremost, the Member States must retain their responsibility – thus, a bottom-up approach – but that Europe must play a very strong coordinating role.

In this connection, I also have a question for you, Commissioner. It is your quintessential responsibility that we are discussing here, is it not? Nevertheless, the Committee on Foreign Affairs is calling for the High Representative to take a very strong role here. I am concerned that, with the disputes over competence in the Commission, we will not know who is actually responsible. This ought to be clarified right at the start in order to avoid duplication of work.

It is also important that we concentrate resources, plan in advance and improve our preparation so that we really are able to act quickly. I was actually rapporteur for the Floods Directive and, in this regard, we also saw that if we are well prepared, we can save lives and also prevent economic damage. I hope, Commissioner, that you will table a proposal along these lines as soon as possible.

 
  
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  Jo Leinen, on behalf of the S&D Group.(DE) Madam President, Commissioner, we, too, welcome your communication on improving civil protection in the European Union. Citizens in Europe expect us to respond quickly and efficiently in the event of a disaster and, above all, to help each other. In the past, we have sometimes sat helpless in front of the television watching forest fires in southern Europe and asked ourselves: why are the others not helping? Your communication now represents the next step towards European solidarity and the efficient use of the capacities that we have in Europe. We have everything that we need. We really do have all of the facilities we need to deal with disasters in Europe. In that respect, this is a positive step forward.

As a previous speaker said, national capacities should not be replaced by centralisation at EU level, but we do need to exploit synergies. We really do need everyone to act swiftly together. This is also urgently needed now. I also agree that we need to think more and more in terms of prevention. We need to deal in the right way with the information that we have and must not wait until a disaster has occurred. We can do a great deal with regard to flooding or potential droughts, where fires frequently break out. I am pleased that we will now organise civil protection, both in the EU and also outside the EU, in a coherent way. I agree with Mr Seeber: the areas of responsibility ought to be clear. You are responsible. You ought to accept that responsibility and not permit the areas of responsibility to be mixed up so that we no longer know who is responsible.

Finally, I believe that this 24/7 preparedness must always be ensured, including at Christmas, during New Year, on public holidays, and during the summer, too. That is very important. I would like to thank Ms Gardini for her excellent report.

 
  
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  Giommaria Uggias, on behalf of the ALDE Group.(IT) Madam President, Commissioner Georgieva, ladies and gentlemen, we are pleased, and first of all, therefore, I would like to thank the rapporteur, Ms Gardini, and the shadow rapporteurs for their fruitful collaboration on such a highly topical and extremely important dossier as this.

As I was saying, we are pleased with the balanced, rational approach adopted in the report, which perfectly takes account of the principle of subsidiarity and the idea of a solidarity clause, which should guide the Member States’ actions in their response to disasters and in their civil protection role. Specifically, I believe it is necessary to develop a predictable, pre-planned system within the European Union’s Civil Protection Mechanism that is in keeping with the principle of subsidiarity. In other words, it must not involve setting up a supranational body, which would be liable to duplicate costs and powers without any assurance that it would work efficiently.

I particularly welcome the attention devoted to extremely vulnerable areas such as islands, which is clearly expressed throughout the body of the report, as well as the emphasis on the link between disaster preparation, prevention and response, which make up an inseparable trio. Lastly, I am pleased to see how sensitively other Members have addressed the subject of major regional threats, which I believe deserves our attention; in particular, there have been many references to actions and strategies targeting forest fires.

 
  
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  Ryszard Czarnecki , on behalf of the ECR Group.(PL) Madam President, I am pleased that we are doing something about this matter, since the number of natural disasters has increased around the world by 500%. At the same time, I would like to emphasise that this problem applies not only to Pakistan or Haiti, but also to Europe, and to Europeans who lose their lives in natural disasters or who sustain significant material losses. This initiative on the part of the European institutions is much needed, as, to be frank, individual countries are not always able to cope with the problem. This is the case in my country, Poland, where the government let down the victims of the latest series of natural disasters, which included hurricanes – both the victims who lost their homes and those whose businesses were affected.

Therefore, this initiative at European Union level is unquestionably necessary. Ladies and gentlemen, we are talking about genuine assistance, since what the victims expect is not a physical display of European Union symbols in places where help is needed, as we have heard, but real support. Such assistance will serve as the best way of promoting the European institutions. It is very important that we are not only talking about post-disaster aid, but also about prevention and averting disasters such as forest fires or, as is significant in the case of my homeland, flood prevention.

 
  
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  Bairbre de Brún, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. (GA) Madam President, I wish to welcome Elisabetta Gardini’s report, and I thank Ms Gardini for her hard work. I thank her especially for her cooperation with us as she took our recommendations and amendments into consideration.

Disaster reduction is an important part of sustainable development. If we plan our development in a way that reduces the risk of disaster, we can save a large number of lives. We can reduce social, economic and environmental destruction as a result of natural hazards, and along with that we can gradually reduce the destruction connected to technological and environmental disaster.

Disaster response begins with prevention and preparedness. I urge the European Commission and the Member States to invest more in disaster reduction and to improve disaster response efficiency in a spirit of solidarity.

Clarity, consistency and coherence are the principal columns on which a strong, working European disaster response system is built.

It is important that there is proper coordination so that we can provide efficient humanitarian aid. However, important humanitarian principles must also be observed, including impartiality, neutrality and independence. We must ensure that international humanitarian law is implemented.

We must ensure that political and strategic affairs do not affect decisions in relation to the distribution of aid. We must ensure that disaster relief is never governed by the strategic trade or political interests of the EU.

We should provide the EU’s humanitarian aid regardless of any political consideration and, at the same time, adhere to agreed international humanitarian principles.

 
  
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  Oreste Rossi, on behalf of the EFD Group.(IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, I, too, would like to join in thanking Ms Gardini for doing such an excellent job.

As we all know, of course, the best thing would be to prevent natural and man-made disasters, but it is not always possible. In any case, when they occur, we need to be ready to intervene as effectively and as swiftly as possible.

The Treaty of Lisbon allows the European Union to act in matters of civil protection as well, and therefore, in the event of a disaster, we need to be able to set up emergency response centres that are operational 24/7. We need to avoid overlapping and duplication of efforts on both the political and the operational side, and it is therefore important to stress that all Member States need to contribute to this project in the spirit of European solidarity.

There must be no barriers when people are in need, but it is essential to intervene rapidly and as efficiently as possible. Of course, it would also do no harm if we managed to keep costs down at times of crisis.

 
  
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  Franz Obermayr (NI).(DE) Madam President, it will be important to increase the efficiency of our disaster response in the EU. We need to learn from the experience of the most recent disasters and abandon particularly risky technologies such as nuclear power or deep-sea drilling. In addition, directives relating to potential risks must be properly transposed. That did not happen, for example, in the case of the sludge spill in Kolontár in Hungary.

A permanent EU civil protection force is something that I think is appropriate to a limited extent only. In some areas, it is indeed appropriate, for example, shared aircraft for fighting fires, but I am essentially of the opinion that the principle that people should help themselves absolutely must be adhered to. In this regard, we absolutely must ensure that we have a risk prevention system in place in the Member States. In countries like Austria or Germany, or in South Tyrol in particular, this disaster prevention is exemplary and it is provided by voluntary components. This should also be upheld as an example in the EU. I say this as someone who has been a member of a voluntary fire service since the age of 14.

 
  
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  Michail Tremopoulos, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. (EL) Madam President, I should like to thank the rapporteur and all my colleagues who helped to draft this consensus report, a report which underlines both the need to upgrade European disaster response mechanisms, by improving the utilisation of resources, and to safeguard the European solidarity sorely needed at this juncture.

With more and more frequent and increasingly serious, natural and man-made disasters, there is an increased need for greater efficiency at all levels of European disaster management, including prevention, response readiness and restoration.

I should like to focus on the prevention aspect: we could save time and money by investing more in prevention than in response and restoration. The faster pace of climate change and of the rate at which natural resources are being depleted will further increase the probability of more frequent and more serious natural disasters. Action to combat climate change and rationally manage natural resources is a smart preventative investment that will save not only human lives, but also valuable resources at this time of economic crisis.

Within this framework, our amendments, which were adopted by the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, stressed precisely this conclusion and the need for more effective emergency response planning for oil spills and nuclear and other dangerous materials. They also underline the need for the ‘polluter pays’ principle to be applied more effectively in terms of responsibility for environmental damage. The accidents in the Gulf of Mexico and Fukushima must remain forever in our minds.

 
  
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  Horst Schnellhardt (PPE).(DE) Madam President, first of all, I would like to thank the rapporteur, Ms Gardini, who has produced a very concise and clear report that also consolidates our tasks. If you read the report and see that there are 16 references to the legal bases underpinning our work to date in disaster prevention and in the area of humanitarian aid, you would have to assume that that would be sufficient. The most recent disaster response results have also shown that we have responded well. However, we also have a new situation in Europe. We are experiencing more environmental disasters and we have terrorist attacks that require rapid responses. I therefore think that it is right for the Commission to table a legislative proposal in this regard.

However, there is one thing that we need to bear in mind, and it has been said many times already, and that is that the Member States must be at the centre of this. However, if we want to set up a disaster response unit, then, Commissioner, it can only be created from the resources of the Member States. When it comes to coordination, however – the important point is that you know where the units are, what they can do, and then coordinate this – the Commission is very well placed to do that and that should be our starting point. Although the financial resources have been increased, I think it is much more important to increase efficiency. That is necessary, and that is why we can actually do without financial resources.

I have another couple of comments regarding the disaster relief fund. There have been calls once again here for this to be extended. I am opposed to this, because we will then have so many variations and options for where the disaster relief fund should be deployed. We ought to leave it as it is. It is there to enable us to reduce the impact of unforeseen disasters, and that is the way it should stay.

 
  
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  Edite Estrela (S&D).(PT) Madam President, disasters are a recurring theme in our debates in Parliament, which is only natural given that they are becoming more frequent and devastating. I should therefore like to welcome Commissioner Georgieva’s initiative, because it seems very relevant to me, and to congratulate the rapporteur, Ms Gardini. We in the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament agree with the analysis of the effects of climate change on the increasing number and seriousness of disasters, and would prioritise prevention policies.

The Treaty of Lisbon introduces provisions enabling us to strengthen our response to disasters, and to make it more comprehensive, coordinated and efficient. We therefore welcome the proposal to establish a European emergency response capacity, as well as the proposal to develop a European emergency response centre.

The objective of maintaining a permanent 24/7 operational centre working in conjunction with the Member States through focal points that are also permanent also seems to be of the greatest importance to us.

I should like to welcome the rapporteur’s proposals, notably as regards pilot projects. For example, I would stress the importance of the pilot project concerning a tactical reserve for aerial fire-fighting to combat forest fires, whose success justifies its continuation and consolidation.

The Treaty of Lisbon also introduced a solidarity clause, and I believe solidarity is an aspect of disaster response that had to be stressed in this report. As such, that is indeed why we tabled amendments to reinforce the solidarity aspect.

 
  
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  Vladko Todorov Panayotov (ALDE). – Madam President, we know that if a catastrophe is well handled with a good reaction capacity, many lives can be saved and colossal damage can be avoided. Nevertheless, prevention is the best solution of all. In particular, with regard to man-made disasters such as Fukushima or the oil spill in Mexico, we have to enhance the benefits of ensuring our safety by anticipation. Paying particular attention to climate change and developing a greener economy will surely be a way to reduce considerably both man-made and natural disasters.

Finally, I would like to thank our rapporteur for the work done on a very important, but also an extremely complex, issue. As a matter of fact, it is difficult to find a common guideline to these phenomena, which are all different and which all need a very prompt and accurate reaction.

 
  
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  Godfrey Bloom (EFD). – Madam President, I rise with some humility as representing a country which managed to elect a Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, a Scotsman, the only Scotsman in the world who actually does not care how much money he spends: it is an interesting phenomenon! So as I say, I rise with some humility. However, I look forward with the great British sense of humour which is one thing nobody can take away from us in this place which gave us an energy policy, an employment policy, a fisheries policy, an agricultural policy that have been – as almost everything that this place has done has been – a complete and total disaster. We are now contemplating a response to disasters, most of which of course we create for ourselves in this place. So I can say I look forward to seeing how this develops, how it goes forward in the future, and I am just interested to see what kind of pig’s breakfast you are going to make of this one!

 
  
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  Françoise Grossetête (PPE).(FR) Madam President, Ms Gardini explained quite clearly in her preamble that this is about solidarity, subsidiarity and, I would add, effectiveness. It is true, as has been said, that the frequency of disasters in the European Union is on the increase, which is why it is important to be able to unite our efforts or, in other words, pool them.

In fact, this idea is entirely based on Michel Barnier’s excellent report of 2006, in which he called for the European Union to allow a number of the resources at its disposal to be pooled, so as to create a sort of European civil protection force that would enable these resources to be brought together and to provide a quicker and more effective response. This would allow us to make use of our most sophisticated technology. We have both the Galileo and the GMES programmes and we also have telecommunications, which enable us to access critical information quickly and, hence, always respond as promptly as possible.

With regard to telecommunications, I should like to take this opportunity to remind people of the benefit of the European emergency number that we sought to create, 112, which has the power to save the lives of thousands of Europeans every day. It is crucial that this number be communicated more effectively to our fellow citizens so that they can be aware of the resources which are available to them.

The report by Ms Gardini therefore proves we can make a radical difference without overhauling existing structures, but rather by pooling resources, paying careful attention, of course, that subsidiarity is respected, and that this can be done without creating inadequate and costly structures. We are calling for the European Commission to ensure the proper coordination of those resources. Commissioner, you said that you were expecting Parliament’s support on this and you can count on us to have it.

 
  
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  Kriton Arsenis (S&D). (EL) Madam President, firstly, I wish to congratulate my colleagues who worked so hard on this report. This report appears, from what my colleagues have said, to be a broad consensus report. My congratulations therefore to the rapporteur, Ms Gardini, and to Mr Stavrakakis from the Committee on Regional Development. This is the second report being put to the vote here in the European Parliament; it comes shortly after the report on forest protection, which calls on us to take measures to protect European forests.

European forests, which are necessary if we are to combat climate change, are also necessary if we are to adapt to and to prepare our communities to combat climate change. With the planet overheating, forests are at risk of fire, flood and numerous other disaster scenarios, just as the whole of Europe is at risk of such disasters, the cross-border consequences of which are such that we have no choice but to take action.

The Commission must act accordingly and we await its response as to whether or not it will proceed with the White Paper on forest protection and we shall finally have legislation to adapt our forests to climate change. In this report, Parliament is, for the second time, calling for legislation to prevent forest fires, a measure which will help save resources and which is necessary at this economic juncture. When fires and other disasters occur, we need a flexible solidarity mechanism adapted to local requirements which will provide a common European response.

 
  
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  Charles Goerens (ALDE).(FR) Madam President, there are only a few ways of improving the EU’s disaster response capacity. Prevention, coordination and mutualisation are the key policy words in this area. That means prevention though a policy with a greater focus on sustainable development, coordination and a constant exchange of information to avoid duplication, and the pooling of the resources available in EU Member States, in the interest of efficiency, on the one hand, and proper management of public funds, on the other.

Could Commissioner Georgieva tell me what main obstacles could still oppose the integration of these principles into EU policy? Could you, Ms Georgieva, tell us what main difficulties you are still encountering at Member-State level when it comes to compliance with these principles or the achievement of objectives which, incidentally, Member States are requested to meet by the Treaty of Lisbon?

 
  
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  Cristina Gutiérrez-Cortines (PPE).(ES) Madam President, I think that Ms Gardini’s report is very good and a great effort has been made. However, I would have liked it to have looked not only at prevention, but also at what will happen next.

One of the extremely serious problems in Haiti, for example, in Lorca during the recent earthquake, and in L’Aquila, is precisely that, while lives have been saved and life has returned to normal, there is a need to rebuild cities, cities that took years and thousands of years to be built. They have to be rebuilt all of a sudden. They have to be built, and there is a science and technology to help with this.

It is not possible to build on just any ground after an earthquake. It is important to find out which ground is the most suitable. Where is the special European Union unit to coordinate all the knowledge within all the sections? We are told that the new cities must be energy efficient, that they have to be smart cities, but how does one make the transition from a destroyed city to a smart city?

In this area, Europe has abandoned its people. It has not put in place any coordination measures, and there is a need, Commissioner, to coordinate the reconstruction work and ensure true flood prevention. There is a need to look at how to control the rivers. Other countries, such as Spain, have achieved this to a large degree.

One cannot stop talking about a disaster the day after it has happened. This is why I am much more concerned about what happens next, and I believe that this is where Europe must start to act.

 
  
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  Jolanta Emilia Hibner (PPE).(PL) Madam President, on behalf of our group, I would like to thank Ms Gardini, who has drawn up a very comprehensive report containing all the salient points.

The establishment of a European emergency response capacity will help EU citizens to feel more secure. It will also play a major role internationally, from the perspective of rescue and humanitarian operations in countries which may be affected by disasters in the future. The proposal to establish a European emergency response capacity is crucially important. I do hope, however, that Member States will maintain full autonomy in managing relief resources and retain the right to use these resources at any time, and I also trust that such resources will be made available on a voluntary basis in keeping with the spirit of European solidarity. It is vital to create a 24/7 European emergency response centre, and given that many already exist in other countries, we can draw on the experience of such centres. These centres will coordinate international operations with our existing practices. It is also essential to draw up scenarios for particular types of disaster, both within and outside the EU.

It is essential to use the emergency response centre to improve the flow of information between the EU and other countries.

 
  
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  Christine De Veyrac (PPE).(FR) Madam President, as everyone has said, in recent years, the European Union has been struck by unprecedented disasters and to name them would take up the entire debate time. I do, however, wish to mention the AZF explosion whose ten-year anniversary we commemorated less than a week ago in Toulouse.

Establishing a stronger response at European level, as proposed in Ms Gardini’s report, would be a real opportunity to demonstrate the solidarity between our people. The Union has already been attempting to operationalise this pooling of our efforts for several years and it is now time to act together and stop waiting for a new disaster to strike the EU in order to learn lessons from it.

It is now a question of making our material, human and financial capacities available to each other, in order to prevent new tragedies from occurring. Commissioner Georgieva, just now, you said that it was necessary to anticipate risks. It is extremely regrettable in this regard, that the European Commission intends to withdraw its funding of the earth observation programme GMES, which is recognised by all as an essential instrument in the prevention and coordination of disaster responses. I urge the Commission to reconsider this position and to support flagship programmes which generate undeniable added-value for Europe.

I would like to thank Ms Gardini for her excellent report. I hope that we are going to adopt it as it will pave the way for European solidarity at the service of citizens.

 
  
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  Marco Scurria (PPE).(IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, in the minute I have to speak, I would certainly like to thank Ms Gardini for the excellent report she has drafted, not least because it comes out of discussions with the competent institutions and the associations working in this area.

However, we need more than that. We need a legislative resolution that can go a step further and organise civil protection across Europe with no more gaps and no more overlaps. At a time when the role of the European Union is being debated, this is an area in which there is a demand for more Europe in order to develop united, coordinated action by the whole EU, particularly because civil protection depends on solidarity and volunteering. That fits in nicely with the aims of the Treaty of Lisbon and the current European Year of Volunteering.

A financial instrument is needed as well, of course, and I thank the Commissioner for pointing this out and requesting an increased budget.

 
  
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  Vasilica Viorica Dăncilă (S&D).(RO) Madam President, the European Union’s Solidarity Fund operates well on the whole, but based on the experience acquired during the early years of its implementation, it is clear that there are still major constraints and weaknesses in the fund’s operation. These are linked to the fund’s lack of speed in providing funding, to the level of transparency of the criteria for mobilising the fund in the event of regional disasters, as well as to the restrictions to natural disasters.

I must remind you that several Member States received financial support from the European Union for the projects implemented in the areas affected by various disasters. However, the funds were released late in relation to the time when maximum effectiveness would have been achieved. With this in mind, I think that the possibility of assistance being granted in the form of an advance payment scheme, based on an initial estimate of the losses, to a country affected by a disaster, at its request, would be a facility greatly appreciated by the affected areas, immediately after a disaster has occurred.

 
  
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  João Ferreira (GUE/NGL).(PT) Madam President, Commissioner, exactly one year ago, in September 2010, a report on a Community approach to the prevention of natural and man-made disasters, for which I was rapporteur, was adopted by a large majority in Parliament.

It stated that prevention, as the first and decisive stage in the disaster management cycle, should be ascribed more importance. Through prevention, the occurrence of many disasters could be avoided, whilst the effects of others could be significantly reduced.

Examples of the measures we proposed in that report include the creation of an appropriate financial framework for prevention; actions in the area of forest management and fire prevention, the protection and defence of coastlines, and the restoration and protection of river basins; the creation of an agricultural public insurance scheme and the establishment of a minimum compensation scheme for disaster-affected farmers; the enhancement of early warning systems; and the revision of the Solidarity Fund Regulation.

One year on, it is easy to see that almost all this remains to be done. It would be worth bearing that in mind when the other stages of the disaster management cycle – preparation, response and recovery – are being debated.

 
  
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  Jaroslav Paška (EFD). (SK) Madam President, there is a saying in my country that misfortune walks not over mountains, but over people. Earthquakes, major floods, fires and other disasters do not sidestep European countries, and the rescue teams of the states affected are often unable, especially in the initial phases of disasters, to provide the necessary assistance in major disasters, and international assistance often becomes a necessity.

We must therefore welcome the Commission’s decision to merge the monitoring and information centre with the Echo crisis centre, creating one independent centre for emergency responses operating on a continuous basis and which is ready at any time to coordinate the EU's emergency humanitarian aid operations. The development of this institution as a focal point for the rapid coordination of European material and financial aid would underline the good sense of the institution even more. I firmly believe that we can effectively protect the lives and health of our people in emergency situations through well-prepared mechanisms and crisis and humanitarian assistance teams.

 
  
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  Iosif Matula (PPE).(RO) Madam President, the European Union and its citizens are faced with an alarming rise in the number of disasters and in their level of severity. The disasters which have occurred in every state across the world prove the need to create a strong European rapid response force for dealing with emergencies. The events which cause disasters cannot be avoided. However, they can be managed and their impact mitigated. A series of measures and actions turned into policies aimed at disaster impact prevention are needed to reduce the risk associated with natural phenomena.

More than EUR 2 billion has been provided in financial aid by the Solidarity Fund between 2002 and 2010, confirming the key role played by the EU in supporting disaster-stricken countries. However, it is difficult for the money allocated to reach the people affected. What is needed is to create an efficient mechanism for mobilising immediately the sums allocated from the Solidarity Fund, with a corresponding mechanism being available in each Member State which is equally rapid. I would like to thank and congratulate Ms Gardini.

 
  
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  Csaba Sándor Tabajdi (S&D).(HU) Madam President, it was a year ago that Hungary suffered through the tragedy of the red mud industrial disaster. We could see precisely just how valuable EU assistance can be, and I would once again like to express my thanks for that. Voluntary aid helped Hungary a great deal but, at the same time, revealed its own ad hoc nature. It is for this reason that I find the objective of the report to create a European emergency response centre excellent.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Commissioner Georgieva for her assistance and, at the same time, ask my fellow Members to please learn to pronounce the name of a Commissioner, who is doing such an excellent job, correctly: it is Georgieva.

I should also point out that after the disaster, the authorities obliged the company responsible to pay six times its own assets in damages, so it has to pay six times that amount. Liability insurance should be mandatory for industrial plants.

 
  
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  Elżbieta Katarzyna Łukacijewska (PPE).(PL) Madam President, a rapid and coordinated response, as well as the ability to engage fully all available resources, are vital in the face of increasingly frequent disasters and catastrophes. For only such measures will limit human tragedy and reduce material losses.

I am very pleased that the report has emphasised the role of local and regional authorities, which are at the frontline when disasters strike. We are all aware that they fulfil a crucial role, both in terms of the prevention of natural disasters as well as in terms of the relief they provide in the aftermath of such disasters. I am also glad that the issue of making the Solidarity Fund more flexible has been raised, ladies and gentlemen, for it is quite unacceptable for victims of tragedies to wait for months or years to receive financial assistance. I would like to congratulate and to thank the rapporteur, and I hope we will accomplish all the proposals contained in the report and that we will improve the coordination, communication and speed of response at all levels.

 
  
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  Ioan Mircea Paşcu (S&D). – Madam President, the multiplication of natural disasters and human-produced disasters is a fact. At the same time, there is more and more strain on the national means available for response, not least because the rest of the world expects the EU to respond to their disasters, too.

Until now, that response has been ad hoc and too bureaucratic. Therefore, a complete overhaul of the entire system is indispensable, and this very detailed report provides the necessary orientation. In essence, we have to eliminate redundancies and increase the efficiency of what we want to keep. In that respect, we need to shift the emphasis from reaction to prevention, stressing monitoring, scenario preparation and education. We need to create a permanent pool of the national means placed at our disposal for such purposes and increase the flexibility of our procedures to make the entire system more operative.

The main conditionality would be subsidiarity, then availability of means – both material and financial. Finally, let us not forget that civil protection is entirely in line with the EU philosophy of intervention, and let us stress the civilian element over the military which, even if not entirely eliminated, will not be central.

 
  
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  Silvia Costa (S&D).(IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, as I congratulate the rapporteur, Ms Gardini, and the Commissioner, I must say that I agree with the calls for European legislation, a bottom-up approach and a coordinating centre that draws on the best experience and the models of civil protection intervention used in the various Member States, bringing together expertise and voluntary resources, national coordinators and local bodies.

I would like to refer to two points. Regarding the consolidation of 112 as the single emergency number in Europe, I would ask the Commission to carry out an active check, given that my country, for example, is moving towards further fragmentation of emergency numbers and the services that answer emergency calls. There are even two numbers for fires. Secondly, we should increase the part played by new technologies in the field of early warning and warning systems, for example, by supporting the roll-out of prototypes that the EU finances but which are not then taken up by the Member States.

Lastly, in terms of the organisation of civil protection, I think it is also important to highlight the social changes that have occurred in the European population, which, to an increasing extent, is elderly, of foreign origin and concentrated in outlying areas where there is little infrastructure. Hence, there is a need to safeguard access and the possibility for this most vulnerable section of the population to be supported.

 
  
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  Kristalina Georgieva, Member of the Commission. – Madam President, thank you very much for the excellent comments and suggestions for the legislative proposal. I shall try to group my answers, starting with what this proposal would do in bringing together a true European capacity.

Madam Striffler brought up this question first. We also had a question from Madam Grossetête on how this relates to the Barnier report. What we are proposing is to integrate the capabilities of Member States and, in this sense, it is more lexis than substance: where the Barnier report was leading us on to and where we are going to be. In the Barnier report, from which we have adopted a total of 12 proposals, the idea is to integrate the capabilities of Member States but there the approach was more top-down, whereas what we are coming with is bottom-up. I can say with confidence that we have support from Member States for this proposal, especially from Member States where the national requirements are such that the delegation is not even at the level of federal or central government but goes down to regional authorities.

So we will have an integrated capacity, we can call it a force, of Member States’ assets. I want to stress that we are not waiting for the legislative proposal to advance. We have already made significant advancements in integrating the capabilities of Member States. When I took office, we had less than 40 modules registered at European level. I can report today that we have 124 modules registered at European level, plus eight coordination teams. The advancements we have taken are in response to the needs. Just for information, in 2010 alone, we activated our Civil Protection Mechanism 28 times. For reference: in previous years, it would be two, three, four or five times and this year, we already have activated it 11 times and the probability is that there may be more activations.

Let me take a second point that was brought up by many MEPs – Mr Arsenis, Mr Czarnecki and Madam de Brún and, I am sure, others – on the importance of preparedness and prevention. We know that a euro invested in prevention brings four to seven euros in return. Yet, moving ahead with prevention has proven to be difficult in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

We recognise how critically important prevention is. I have just come back from Washington where we in the Commission took the lead, together with the World Bank and the government of Japan, in making this question of preparedness and of prevention a high global priority, and we will continue with structured measures focusing on actions taken in prevention in order to boost this work.

We will come back with additional legislative proposals in this area as we advance in our operational thinking. Of course, forests are a big part in our prevention measures. They matter in floods, they matter in being ready for forest fires, they matter in the ecological system for cities and rural areas. So, Mr Arsenis, you will see forests becoming a big part of our preparedness and prevention work.

But preparedness is also training together, and this is where the Commission has already advanced our role. Just last Friday I was in Poland taking part in a five country preparedness exercise, Carpatex, and I can tell you that bringing our community of civil protection together is paramount in saving lives, and reducing property, and we in the Commission are dedicated to do more of it.

I was asked by Mr Leinen and Mr Seeber how we coordinate with the High Representative and I can give you a very positive report that, on the basis of activations and practice in dealing with crises, we have advanced significantly the institutional arrangements and we have much more clarity in who does what, when and where.

Clearly, inside Europe, the High Representative has no role. Two-thirds of activations of the civil protection last year were inside Europe and there it is a matter of internal EU action. Outside Europe, we act as a first responder bringing civil protection humanitarian aid, whereas the High Representative has a role in political and defence coordination. Of course, in complex crises, the High Representative takes the lead and there we bring our skills and capabilities – this is best practice in our Member States, where civil protection is coordinated. Member States have their own civil protection coordination centres and politics and defence are coordinated. Sometimes, civil protection steps in and sometimes they have no role, depending on the type of crisis. Those of you who watched President Obama of the United States responding to the floods recently will have seen that he did it from the civil protection centre of the United States, but when you watch him, in the case of Bin Laden, he was in the situation room of the United States, in the White House.

So, we do have separate roles, we do of course have to coordinate in complex emergencies and, depending on the emergencies, we define exactly how this coordination takes place.

What obstacles do we face from Member States? The critical issue we face is to assure Member States that we are mindful of their legislative conditions, in other words, that we respect how civil protection is organised in each and every one of our Member States, and recognise that in national disasters, where there is no role for the European Union and the country can cope on its own, of course we will not interfere in this response.

Member States in current fiscal conditions and the budgetary environment want to be sure that we will be mindful of cost efficiency. I can give you my word that I am very fiscally prudent and that, yes, we will make sure that every euro of our taxpayers’ money is spent in the best possible and most effective manner. In other words, at Community level when it makes sense, and at the country level when it is more appropriate.

I was also asked about how we deal with post-disasters. It is a very critical question to link relief to rehabilitation and development and to make sure that development assistance, including technical capabilities from the European Union, is made available to countries affected by disasters. We have taken some measures in that respect to improve the post-disaster risk assessment that is carried out and then make sure that the European contribution is in this context of internationally coordinated efforts in developing countries. I do agree that this is an area where more work needs to be done, and we have made it a priority with Commissioner Piebalgs for our cooperation.

I very much agree with Ms de Brún that we must respect the principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence when we provide humanitarian assistance, including civil protection in-kind assistance in developing countries, especially in areas that are affected not only by disasters, but also by conflicts. This must always be respected and I am grateful to Baroness Ashton for very much supporting this principle of neutrality and independence in humanitarian work.

Speakers including Ms Dăncilă – I apologise if I mispronounced the name – made a point on the Solidarity Fund. We work together with Commissioner Hahn to make a proposal for redefining the Solidarity Fund so that it can act immediately through a pre-funding arrangement in case a country is affected by disasters. Last year, I faced a very uncomfortable situation when floods affected Moldova and Romania. In Moldova, we can provide humanitarian assistance overnight, in Romania we cannot. I am therefore a very strong proponent of making sure that solidarity is expressed right at the time when people need it when a disaster hits.

On the question of GMES, this is a pilot project that is very much on the priority list of the working programme for the Commission. The pilot project is now completed but the Commission intends to support GMES financially to the extent possible in the next multi-year financial framework and, of course, we count on Parliament to support our proposal so that it can be done.

Last but not least, on the forest fire-fighting reserve, this is a pilot project that unfortunately came to an end. We cannot extend it, but we are going to include it in the legislative proposal. Talking about where we have difficulty with Member States, some of our Member States are really not in favour of it so we would need your support in Parliament. It is the right thing to do, we have seen it in the years we have applied it, but we still have some work to do to convince Member States that this funding arrangement has to be continued once the legislative proposal is being done. I apologise for taking so long, but there were very many good questions and I did not want to skip any of them.

 
  
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  Elisabetta Gardini, rapporteur.(IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, thank you, I was already planning to give back the extra time I had unduly used at the beginning of the debate.

There is not much to add, in fact, because I feel the House has confirmed the great chance we have in this case to be really ambitious and to give the people more Europe, as Europe is all too often felt to be remote. This time, though, we have a wonderful tool to make people feel Europe is close to them even in minor matters, leaving aside the fundamental issues that it would be pointless to repeat. The 112 number might appear to be minor, although it has been mentioned several times, as might Article 23 of the Treaty – which needs to be brought to the public’s attention – which says that European citizens who are in a third country where their country of birth or nationality is not represented are entitled to protection by any diplomatic authority of any EU Member State.

This is the kind of Europe we need.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: DAGMAR ROTH-BEHRENDT
Vice-President

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place today at 12.30.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  János Áder (PPE), in writing.(HU) The debate about strengthening EU disaster response gives us a good opportunity to examine the system of European disaster management in a broader context. Although I agree with the conclusions of the report, I believe that there are quite a number of questions that remain unanswered: Does the EU possess the appropriate financial means to protect not only against natural disasters, but also against industrial accidents with serious consequences? Do we have the means to allow rapid and effective damage control in the case of industrial disasters? If we have no answer to these questions – and I believe that we do not – then would this not be the right time to begin to develop a new set of effective financial instruments as soon as possible? I am convinced that the solution lies in a European disaster insurance system based on the principle of mandatory liability insurance, which would provide sufficient extra resources from the payments of potential industrial polluters to enable the EU to implement quick and efficient intervention. Injured parties would receive money immediately, while the risks deriving from potential non-payment by polluters could be spread out at EU level. Furthermore, payers could also become beneficiaries of the system by submitting applications for assistance for their safety and environmental investments from any unused funds. I believe that a substantive debate on this matter should begin as soon as possible, and we should not wait for another disaster to remind us of its necessity.

 
  
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  Daciana Octavia Sârbu (S&D), in writing. – The 2010 floods in Romania brought sudden disaster and tragic loss of life to many communities. Since then, we have seen many natural disasters unfold around the world, with significant human, environmental, and economic costs. The costs of both the immediate emergency response and long-term reconstruction are considerable. So I welcome this report’s emphasis on improving the flexibility and efficiency of the Solidarity Fund, which can provide valuable assistance to Member States and the assurance they need to release funds in the aftermath of a disaster. I also support the calls for a response capacity based on the European Civil Protection Mechanism, which pools capabilities and expertise from across the EU so as to provide the best and most efficient expert help during times of crises. Many disasters happen despite being entirely preventable. Last year, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for a complete ban on the use of cyanide technology in mining projects because of the potential for cross-border environmental catastrophe in the event of an accident. Yet, despite this, the Romanian Government is about to approve such a mining project, which poses a grave threat to the environment and valuable cultural heritage of a whole region.

 
  
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  Claudiu Ciprian Tănăsescu (S&D), in writing. (RO) We are living in an interconnected world where an adverse change in one element can have unexpected repercussions elsewhere. The lesson learnt from the numerous disasters highlights the significant role played by information and the exchange of information between actors, not only with the aim of preventing disasters, but also of responding efficiently in critical situations.

This is why I regard as imperative and support the creation of a European emergency response centre. Since cooperation has allowed us to prosper as a continent and play a leading economic role for a long time, it is appropriate for us to create a pool of resources, capacities and assets for the European Union not only to intervene in crisis situations, but also to take united action globally.

We must bear in mind that our ecological footprint extends far beyond the EU’s borders. As a result, we need to show solidarity not only in sharing the benefits of our actions, but also in sharing the relevant costs.

 
Last updated: 5 January 2012Legal notice