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Thursday, 7 September 2006 - Strasbourg Final edition
Forest fires and floods
P6_TA(2006)0349B6-0460, 0466, 0473, 0474, 0475 and 0478/2006

European Parliament resolution on forest fires and floods

The European Parliament ,

–   having regard to Articles 2, 6 and 174 of the EC Treaty,

–   having regard to its resolution of 18 January 2006 on the outcome of the Montreal Conference on climate change(1) , its resolution of 5 September 2002 on floods in Europe(2) , its resolution of 14 April 2005 on the drought in Portugal(3) , its resolution of 12 May 2005 on the drought in Spain(4) , its resolution of 8 September 2005 on natural disasters (fires and floods) in Europe(5) and its resolutions of 18 May 2006 on natural disasters (forest fires, droughts and floods) - agricultural aspects(6) , regional development aspects(7) and environmental aspects(8) ,

–   having regard to the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) of 11 December 1997 and the Community's ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on 31 May 2002,

–   having regard to the "Forest Focus" regulation, Regulation (EC) No 2152/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 November 2003(9) ,

–   having regard to the Commission's Communication of 18 November 1998 on a Forestry Strategy for the European Union (COM (1998)0649) and to Parliament's resolution of 16 February 2006 on the implementation of a European Union forestry strategy(10) ,

–   having regard to the Commission proposal of 29 September 2004 for a regulation concerning the Financial Instrument for the Environment (LIFE+) (COM(2004)0621 and Parliament's position of 7 July 2005(11) ,

–   having regard to Council Regulation (EC) No 1698/2005 concerning the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and Council Decision 2006/144/EC on Community strategic guidelines for rural development,

–   having regard to the Commission proposal for a Rapid Response and Preparedness Instrument for major emergencies (COM(2005)0113),

–   having regard to the Commission Communication on improving the Community Civil Protection Mechanism (COM(2005)0137 and Michel Barnier's call for the creation of a European civil protection force, to be called 'Europe Aid',

–   having regard to the Commission proposal for establishing a European Union Solidarity Fund (COM(2005)0108) and to Parliament's position of 18 May 2006(12) ,

–   having regard to the Commission Communication on a Biomass action plan (COM(2005)0628) and on an EU Strategy for Biofuels (COM(2006)0034),

–   having regard to its resolution of 15 June 2006 on the revised sustainable development strategy(13) ,

–   having regard to point 12 of the Presidency Conclusions of the Brussels European Council of 15 and 16 June 2006 concerning the Union's responsiveness to emergencies, crises and disasters,

–   having regard to Rule 103(4) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.   whereas in 2006 the European Union has suffered devastating forest fires, especially in the southern Member States, which have caused fatalities and considerable material damage,

B.   whereas the total area of vegetation and woodland affected by the fires in the EU is more than 200 000 hectares, half of it in Spain; whereas the other Member States affected include not only Portugal, Greece, France, Italy and Cyprus, but also others traditionally considered less at risk, such as the Netherlands, Ireland, Lithuania, the UK, Austria, Sweden, the Czech Republic and Poland,

C.   whereas the forest fires were particularly severe in regions such as Galicia, where, by 14 August 2006, 88 473 hectares were affected, leading to 4 deaths, injuring 514 people, killing animals and causing considerable material and ecological damage, including to 17 Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) included in the Natura 2000 Network and other areas of ecological significance, some of which form corridors for species between protected sites,

D.   whereas in recent years persistent droughts and high temperatures have led to the proliferation of forest fires in Europe and worsening desertification in many regions and have affected agriculture, stockbreeding and the forest heritage,

E.   whereas the European Environment Agency (EEA) has predicted that southern Europe will experience increased drought stress, more frequent forest fires and increased heat stress, while northern Europe will experience increased precipitation, and most regions of Europe will encounter increases in flood magnitude and frequency, due to climate change,

F.   whereas Europe's vulnerability to drought is increasingly due to unsustainable use of water, soil and biological resources as well as to climate change, which also puts the European food supply at risk,

G.   whereas these fires have partly been caused by the drought and high temperatures of summer 2006 as well as the socio-economic and cultural changes that have occurred in recent decades in rural areas: abandonment of rural areas, insufficient maintenance of forests, planting of insufficient varieties of trees and a considerable incidence of criminal activity,

H.   whereas the abandonment of rural areas, as well as a decrease in the profitability of forests and the high cost of their maintenance, has affected good management by owners, with the consequence of an increase in biomass in undergrowth and the appearance of large areas of highly combustible thicket, while in those places where forests are socio-economically relevant, fires are significantly less prevalent,

I.   whereas natural disasters have damaging economic and social consequences for regional economies, productive activity and tourism,

J.   whereas floods, in particular in Austria, Hungary and Poland, but also in other parts of Europe, have caused serious damage to homes, infrastructure and agriculture,

K.   whereas fires and floods are often transnational in nature and it is therefore necessary to reinforce the joint measures for fighting natural disasters and the Community civil protection mechanisms,

L.   whereas rural development policy will not suffice to tackle this problem, and the heading for aid to farmers for creating and maintaining firebreaks has disappeared from the framework regulation for the new European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD),

M.   whereas the Brussels European Council of 15 and 16 June 2006 adopted the Presidency's report on reinforcing the Union's response capacities in cases of emergency and crisis, and welcomed the report presented by Michel Barnier in May 2006,

N.   whereas, pursuant to the Presidency Conclusions of that Council, the Brussels-based ad hoc crisis steering group should be operative by 1 July 2006,

O.   whereas Parliament plans to follow up its work on natural disasters, in particular its work since August 2005, with a public hearing on fires and floods, to be held in October 2006,

P.   whereas there is no specific European legislation to tackle droughts and fires, although a directive on the prevention of floods is being prepared,

1.  Expresses its solidarity with the relatives of those who lost their lives and with residents in the affected areas, in particular Galicia, and thanks everyone – professionals and volunteers – who helped extinguish fires and rescue people from floods;

2.  Acknowledges the solidarity shown by the European Union, its Member States and other countries with the affected regions in both Member States and candidate countries and the praiseworthy help provided to their authorities and rescue services; considers that the dimensions of these phenomena and their consequences go beyond the regional and national scale and urgently call for an effective European commitment;

3.  Is concerned at the growing number of disasters, something which, according to experts, may be attributed largely to climate change; calls, accordingly, on the Member States to do what is necessary to attain the Kyoto goals, and calls on the Commission to take initiatives to guarantee compliance with the Kyoto commitments and the follow-up to them; believes that the damage caused by recent events further emphasises that mitigation will be much less costly than the consequences of global warming;

4.  Considers that its above mentioned resolution of 15 June 2006 contains key elements and principles to be taken into account and calls for the timely implementation of the strategy;

5.  Believes that global and regional preventive measures must play the key role, rather than damage reparation; further notes that the damage caused by these natural disasters could have been partly prevented and that this should provide an incentive for developing and implementing prevention policies and adequate legislation on conservation and appropriate land use, including sustainable farm and forestry practices and efficient risk management;

6.  Believes that such disasters can be handled efficiently only at Community level, subject to the subsidiarity principle: they call for an effective response at European level, with, if necessary, new Community instruments for preventing and dealing with the problem;

7.  Asks the Commission to mobilise the European Union Solidarity Fund in a flexible fashion, facilitating its implementation, in order to tackle serious damage caused by fires, bearing in mind that such damage affects the way of life of the population, especially in the less prosperous regions that have to cope with adverse effects on infrastructure, economic potential, employment, the natural and cultural heritage, the environment and tourism, which in turn will badly affect economic and social cohesion;

8.  Calls for adequate resources to be allocated to civil protection against major emergencies and regrets the Council's lukewarm response to the proposal for creating a European civil protection corps (the Barnier report);

9.  Welcomes the Commission's proposals for improving the EU's rapid response capacity for major emergencies;

10.  Calls for better use of existing financial and technical resources and scientific improvements in the prevention of disasters and the alleviation of their consequences;

11.  Urges the adoption and the prompt implementation by the Member States of the proposed legislation establishing a Community civil protection mechanism and concerning the assessment and management of floods (the latter under codecision);

12.  Calls on the Finnish Presidency-in-Office to pay particular attention to the development of the Union's rapid response capacity for major disasters and to the proposals made by the Commission and Parliament for reinforcing the Community's civil protection capacity and to propose the adoption of the relevant legal instruments by the end of 2006, in line with the mandate given by the European Council of 15 and 16 June 2006;

13.  Urges the Commission to create a programme for the exchange of experience of the implementation of new technologies for controlling and following up the risks and effects of forest fires and to prepare a European approval procedure for the qualifications of technical personnel, to improve their training;

14.  Expresses its concern that the aims of the "Forest Focus" regulation in the field of prevention have not been attained; notes that the number of fires and the areas which have been burned, rather than decreasing, have increased since it entered into force; calls on the Commission to include specific proposals to solve these problems in the report that it is to present before the end of 2006;

15.  Notes that, despite the fact that the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) has managed to harmonise data on fires within Member States and to provide updated information on the natural risk factors, it does not permit investigation of the anthropogenic origins, does not determine socioeconomic risk factors and does not evaluate the repercussions of fires; calls on the Commission to submit a proposal to supplement this system with other data that make it possible to correct these shortcomings;

16.  Urges the Commission to present, within the Action Plan on Biomass, concrete proposals for the forests in southern Europe concerning the use of forest biomass for energy purposes, entailing a new source of income for the owner and at the same time contributing to better management of forests;

17.  Calls on the Commission, in the new EU Action Plan for the sustainable management of forests, to step up the European forest policy and give greater emphasis to the multiple functions of European agriculture, with a twofold aim: to maintain and provide employment for the rural population and to substantially increase the mass of forests; calls likewise for support measures for fire prevention in silviculture to help the owners and their organisations implement such activities as pollarding, non-commercial pruning, slashing, clearing the forest biomass, creating control lines and fire breaks, building forest roads and depositing water;

18.  Calls on the Commission to issue a Communication to make society aware of the value of our forests and their resources and the benefits of their conservation, promoting the involvement of civil society through organised volunteering or other methods, such as involving associations for the protection of forests and natural areas;

19.  Calls on the Member States to strengthen penalties for criminal acts that damage the environment and in particular those for causing forest fires, and believes that prompt and effective investigation that determines responsibilities, followed by proportionate punishment, would discourage negligent and deliberately criminal behaviour;

20.  Reiterates its call on the Commission to submit specific proposals for a directive on combating forest fires and droughts in the Union, with a view to improving the coordination of Member States" policies and optimising the existing Community instruments;

21.  Calls on the Commission to undertake an in-depth analysis of the consequences and repercussions of natural disasters, especially those affecting the Union's forests, including the impact on the Natura 2000 Network, and to submit proposals for the development of a Community policy for controlling forest fires and for a joint protocol on preventing and combating such fires;

22.  Advocates a Community strategy for the coordination of fire prevention measures in the framework of the rural development regulation; calls for a reforestation policy based on respect for bio-climatic and environmental characteristics, using plant varieties that resist fire and drought better and are better adapted to the climate;

23.  Calls on the Commission to reintroduce aid to farmers for creating and maintaining firebreaks as part of the implementing rules for the new European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD);

24.  Considers that voluntary civil protection action should be promoted and supported without delay, with basic training and equipment that might harness advanced technologies, since this is one of the major resources available to the Member States when dealing with states of emergency arising from natural disasters;

25.  Regrets that Russia neglected to cooperate with its neighbouring countries during its recent forest fires; calls for the Commission to raise this issue in the framework of the EU-Russia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement;

26.  Calls on its Bureau to authorise a delegation to the worst-affected areas ahead of the public hearing planned for October 2006, during which the Barnier report will be considered;

27.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the governments of the Member States and the regional authorities affected by the fires and floods.

(1) Texts Adopted , P6_TA(2006)0019.
(2) OJ C 272 E, 13.11.2003, p. 471.
(3) OJ C 33 E, 9.2.2006, p. 599.
(4) OJ C 92 E, 20.4.2006, p. 414.
(5) OJ C 193 E, 17.8.2006, p. 322.
(6) Texts Adopted , P6_TA(2006)0222.
(7) Texts Adopted , P6_TA(2006)0223.
(8) Texts Adopted , P6_TA(2006)0224.
(9) OJ L 324, 11.12.2003, p. 1.
(10) Texts Adopted , P6_TA(2006)0068.
(11) OJ C 157 E, 6.7.2006, p. 451.
(12) Texts Adopted , P6_TA(2006)0218.
(13) Texts Adopted , P6_TA(2006)0272.

Last updated: 7 May 2007Legal notice