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Procedure : 2005/0052(CNS)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A6-0027/2006

Texts tabled :

A6-0027/2006

Debates :

PV 13/03/2006 - 20
CRE 13/03/2006 - 20

Votes :

PV 14/03/2006 - 9.5
CRE 14/03/2006 - 9.5
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P6_TA(2006)0075

Verbatim report of proceedings
Monday, 13 March 2006 - Strasbourg OJ edition

20. Rapid response and preparedness instrument for major emergencies (debate)
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  President. The next item is the report by Dimitrios Papadimoulis, on behalf of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, on the proposal for a Council regulation establishing a Rapid Response and Preparedness Instrument for major emergencies (COM(2005)0113 – C6- 0181/2005 – 2005/0052(CNS)) (A6-0027/2006).

 
  
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  Stavros Dimas, Μember of the Commission. (EL) Mr President, I should like to start by thanking the European Parliament and, more importantly, the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety and the rapporteur, Mr Papadimoulis, for the truly excellent report which we are debating today.

The objective of the Commission proposal to establish a rapid response and preparedness instrument for major emergencies is to safeguard a single financing framework for civil protection actions. These response and preparedness actions are currently covered by various financing instruments, such as the action programme or the Community civil protection mechanism.

However, what is even more important is the fact that the proposed financing instrument takes account of the calls by the European Parliament and of the Council for the strengthening of the response capacity in the civil protection sector in Europe. The basis for the further development of cooperation in the civil protection sector is through strengthening the work already carried out and through launching new actions.

Two innovations need to be highlighted here: firstly, we are proposing to finance the cost of moving assistance within the framework of civil protection. On numerous occasions we face situations in which the assistance was available but there were no means for moving it to the scene of the emergency. As a result the assistance was either not provided at all or was provided late. That is why the Commission is proposing that the European Commission be given the facility to hire the necessary means of transport either from third countries or from private companies.

There is a similar problem with civil protection equipment: in the case of emergencies which affect several European countries at once, such as forest fires in the summer or floods in spring or even simultaneous threats of terrorist action throughout Europe, the Member States may face difficulties in providing assistance to another Member State due to the need to address their own requirements. In such cases, the Community must be in a position to provide assistance to the Member States affected. Thus, the Commission is proposing to establish a backup financing network at Community level which will allow additional equipment to be hired.

Ambitious but necessary reforms, such as those we are debating today, obviously require important financial resources and, to quote Demosthenes, 'money is the root of everything'.

The Commission is certain that the European Parliament understands, as the report we are debating today illustrates, the importance of the benefit which derives from these reforms. Reinforced cooperation in the civil protection sector will result in better protection for the citizens of the European Union and the populations of third countries. This is the only way to ensure that the Community will be able to provide more coordinated, more effective and more prompt assistance to any country affected by a major emergency.

 
  
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  Dimitrios Papadimoulis (GUE/NGL), rapporteur. – (EL) Mr President, I agree with Mr Dimas that we need to do more in order to make the way in which the European Union addresses extensive natural disasters, both those which affect Europe itself, such as floods, drought or fires, and other natural disasters beyond our borders, such as the tsunami or the hurricane in Mississippi and Louisiana, stronger and more effective. What we want, therefore, is to do more and to do better all together. If we succeed and respond to the demand by European citizens for improvements to their safety and quality of life, we can also achieve economies of scale, because a more effective European mechanism can result in savings in the resources of each Member State individually.

I should like to point out that the challenge before us is to set up an effective civil protection mechanism. If we are to succeed in this, we need, apart from what Demosthenes rightly spoke about two and half thousand years ago, for the Council to agree as well. The Council must increase the resources available. The Commission and the Council agree that we also need to be able to find ways of strengthening assistance for addressing emergencies outside the borders of the European Union. Consequently, we also need to finance this facility and, if we make more and better perspicacious investments in strengthening our cooperation now, we can also avoid large losses of human life and painful damage to property which will cost a great deal more to the Union budget to address at a later date.

I should like to thank the shadow rapporteurs from all the political groups for the excellent cooperation which we had within the framework of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety and which resulted in my report and certain amendments to the Commission's initial proposal being approved almost unanimously, by 49 votes in favour and just one against.

My amendments, which were adopted by the Committee on the Environment and are included in the report, focus on four main points:

The first point is the change to the legal basis, which will allow the European Parliament to put things in the right framework and, most importantly, not to confine itself to a purely advisory role, but to be involved in the codecision procedure, so that this institution, which is closer to the European citizens, will then also have the facility to exert greater influence on decision-making.

The second change is the inclusion of prevention in the scope of the instrument. It goes without saying that the integrated management of situations caused by natural disasters must include, in addition to preparedness and rapid response measures, investment in prevention. Prevention is one of the pillars for addressing the problem and I am delighted that, on this issue, we have the same perception as both the Commission and the Council.

This also applies to the third point, to the need to extend this instrument and its action to countries outside the European Union, because natural disasters do not recognise borders.

The fourth proposed amendment is to include public health in the scope of the instrument, which is especially important at a time when there is a serious danger of an avian influenza pandemic.

To close, I should like us to use tomorrow's vote to send, with the same assent we had in the Committee on the Environment, a clear message both to the European citizens and to the Council, as we have also done in the past with a series of motions on natural and manmade disasters. This message is necessary, because it will help us to achieve cooperation between the three institutions, so that we can quickly achieve a positive result.

 
  
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  Marcello Vernola, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, following on from what Mr Papadimoulis said with regard to the additions that the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety made to the Commission proposal through the principle of extending the scope of the regulation to include marine pollution, I should like to add that there are currently no other specific instruments designed to manage the consequences resulting from marine disasters.

Having expressed all but unanimous support for the work done by Mr Papadimoulis, the Committee for the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety approved other specific amendments that I tabled, including the centrality of environmental issues in the management of disasters. The Commission has been asked to ensure, within the scope of the various Community mechanisms and instruments in the field of civil protection, that greater attention is paid to those regions that are isolated and more remote due to geographical, territorial and socio-economic characteristics and to integrate civil protection measures into teaching modules and communication and information campaigns with a view to increasing awareness of the need to prevent, prepare for, and respond rapidly to, major emergencies and to guaranteeing the involvement of civil society in prevention and response measures. In other words, we need to focus on young people and on education in schools.

A final important amendment was approved by the Committee for the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, namely the one designed to raise the profile of voluntary work, whether done by groups or individual citizens, since volunteers can provide vital services in the absence of the emergency services, which may be delayed in the wake of a major catastrophe. I believe that, with these proposals, the regulation adopts a far broader outlook in terms of the management of major emergencies.

 
  
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  Åsa Westlund, on behalf of the PSE Group. (SV) Mr President, thank you, Mr Papadimoulis, for your thorough work on this report.

We live at a time when disasters seem to be becoming ever more common. A few years ago, Iran was hit by a terrible and disastrous earthquake. I remember the event very clearly because, every day, I could see from the television that the Iranians were receiving no help in digging the survivors out of the ruins. Just over a year ago, South-East Asia was hit by the disastrous tsunami that also dealt a severe blow to my own country. There are reports from that disaster of how certain EU Member States rescued their own citizens but left other people to their fate.

What is, in any case, clear is that the rescue efforts would have been more successful if there had been better EU cooperation. It is also true that aid could have been provided more efficiently on those occasions that the EU Member States have been hit by, for example, major floods and forest fires. Moreover, this type of disaster will presumably become more common as climate change progresses. That is why this instrument is extremely important.

We Social Democrats have particularly emphasised the need for this instrument to operate both within and outside the EU, partly in view of the fact that our own citizens are often outside the EU but, above all, out of solidarity with other people. We also think it extremely important for the EU also to cooperate with the UN – its natural partner – in this area.

We have also tabled an amendment of our own on the budget for this instrument. We hope that everyone will be able to support this amendment, because it states the obvious fact that the budget will depend on the outcome of the negotiations concerning the financial perspective. We also support the rapporteur when it comes to the legal basis and to extending the instrument so that it also covers disasters affecting public health.

If we need to set priorities where the ongoing work on the budget is concerned, what will be most important for us Social Democrats are direct efforts and the preparations for these, both within and outside the EU.

 
  
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  Sajjad Karim, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, the tragic South Asian tsunami heightened public awareness, for the first time, of the possibility of similar extreme events threatening our homes and livelihoods. Although on a lesser scale, just weeks later, a major storm in Carlisle – a town in my constituency – coupled with hurricane winds and high tides produced exceptional rainfall, leading to the overtoppling of defences and flooding of 3 000 homes and hundreds of businesses, drowning two elderly ladies in their beds and forcing thousands of people from their homes, some for many months.

I felt the devastation in Carlisle as deeply as I felt the aftermath of the tsunami and the earthquake in South Asia some months later. The EU suffered personal tragedies in all cases, as our holiday-makers in Sri Lanka and Thailand were washed away and our friends and families in Pakistan and Kashmir were lost in the rubble.

The positive side of all this was the strengthening of our collective belief in the force of community across the globe, with the outpouring of aid and goodwill from governments and individuals alike. In that adversity we saw the best of human nature. Yet even the best suffer fatigue and it became clear in November, as the Kashmiris faced a second wave of deaths from disease and exposure, that the donor community cannot be relied upon to respond decisively where political will is lacking.

The EU's Rapid Response and Preparedness Instrument must fill this void and work closely with the UN system to take advantage of our pooled resources and see to it that when our friends need us we come to their aid. Given the impact of climate change, we must accept that extreme events will continue, and with increasing frequency.

In Carlisle we have a new strategy for flood management – making space for water, undertaking integrated urban drainage pilot schemes to investigate how the threat of floods can be better managed. Prevention is crucial and environmental concerns such as the sound management of natural resources like forests and wetlands are key tools in the evasion of disasters, lessening their impact on people, homes and livelihoods.

Whatever prevention strategies are put in place and however much is invested, it is unrealistic to think that these disasters can be eliminated. We must learn from them. Large sums need to be invested in warning mechanisms, risk maps and public awareness campaigns to ensure our citizens are aware of the risks.

We must ensure that prevention, detention and warning mechanisms for natural hazards in Europe and across the globe are robust and put our citizens – from Carlisle to Kashmir – in the best position to prevent, prepare for and respond to disasters.

In this report Parliament has significantly improved the Commission's proposal and it is one that I can fully recommend to this House.

 
  
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  Satu Hassi, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. (FI) Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank Mr Papadimoulis for his excellent work. When talking about the EU’s ability to react to catastrophes, we should remember that in recent decades the number of weather-related disasters has increased, and that it is predicted to rise further as a result of climate change. Consequently, reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the main way of curtailing the number of destructive floods and storms in the future.

Every year since 1990, the world has seen at least 20 weather-related events classified as major disasters, a figure which only occurred in three of the previous 20 years. Since 1990, according to insurance company statistics, the annual damage due to weather catastrophes has more than doubled and the compensation paid out has quadrupled. Researchers say that storms and floods are not only becoming more common, but more powerful too. The World Wildlife Fund recently published a study showing that climate change is adding to the number of storms that occur in Europe, mostly around the North Sea, in the British Isles, in the Netherlands and in France. The highest wind speeds could increase by as much as 15% by the end of the century. Experience shows that in the United Kingdom such a rise in wind speed could increase storm damage by 50%, and in the Netherlands a 6% rise in wind speed could result in damage increasing fivefold, because of the liability of flooding. In other words, ladies and gentlemen, we have to understand that climate protection is a crucial factor in reducing the number of weather-related disasters in future.

 
  
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  Irena Belohorská (NI). – (SK) Ladies and gentlemen, I too would like to join those who have thanked our fellow MEP, Mr Papadimoulis, and expressed appreciation for his work in drafting this report. The European Union has recently experienced an increased number of natural, technological and industrial disasters. I agree with, and fully support, the idea of combining efforts to prevent these disasters and to ensure a rapid response in the aftermath. Both activities are in fact inseparable, but we can only speak about the prevention of a potential disaster if it can actually be identified before it occurs. Many disasters are impossible to predict, and as such there can be no prevention; therefore, we can only deal with the consequences of the disaster.

I am pleased that my amendments to this report have been accepted. The main purpose of the Regulation is to protect people, but it is also necessary to specify the nature of this protection, particularly the protection of public health and security. By the same token, it would be appropriate to include, in accordance with the solidarity principle, third countries in this process. We must realise that natural, technological, and industrial disasters, as well as terrorist attacks, recognise no borders.

I would like to point out that it is also essential to protect the financial interests of the Community, and therefore I recommend amending Article 12 of the draft as follows: ‘If a financial aid beneficiary cannot satisfactorily document the use of the aid and, after being urged to do so, cannot demonstrate that the aid has been used in accordance with the Regulation, then there must be clawback provisions in place. The Commission must, rather than may, discontinue financial aid and must demand that the funds disbursed be repaid.’

 
  
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  Richard Seeber (PPE-DE).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, I too would like to thank the rapporteur for his outstanding work. It is clear from the outcome of the vote that he has worked with all the groups and has spoken on behalf of the whole House.

I would also like to thank the Commission for the holistic approach it has taken to this area of responses to crises and the management of natural disasters. The crisis response instrument that is under consideration is, after all, but one part of the overall framework with which the European Union is attempting to overcome calamities or find ways of responding to them. While I am on this subject, I might also mention that I too am from a region that has suffered from flooding, and that the Commission, last Friday, committed a substantial sum of money to alleviating the consequences of this disaster. So let me take this opportunity of saying how grateful I am for European solidarity.

What is crucial is that we should do as the rapporteur recommends and alter the legal basis. I also believe that Article 175 is the right one to use as a means of creating a suitable legal basis for this instrument. It also strikes me as essential that the scope be extended to include prevention, civil protection in third countries, and maritime pollution as well.

What can be said in general terms is that this presents us with an opportunity to respond to the European public’s concerns and questions by providing aid quickly and without bureaucracy. This is where the Community really can be made visible, and this instrument should be used to do that. It is no use to anybody if the EU expects them to go through complex bureaucratic procedures or points them towards committees that have yet to meet, when what they really need is quick and unbureaucratic help, which would achieve much more than expensive information campaigns that only end up running into the ground.

I would like to conclude by saying that the French statesman Talleyrand’s dictum about the need for not too much zeal is utterly inappropriate in this context; one cannot be zealous enough when it comes to alleviating the consequences of natural disasters.

 
  
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  Edite Estrela (PSE).(PT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I should also like to begin by congratulating the rapporteur on his excellent report.

In recent years, as other speakers have mentioned, there has been an increase in the number of natural disasters due to, inter alia, climate change, damage to the environment and lack of land-use planning. In order to respond quickly and effectively to serious emergencies, the EU has at its disposal a range of instruments, such as this regulation, which is at the development stage.

The terrible natural disasters of the summer of 2005 – significant flooding in Central Europe, severe drought in southern Europe and fires destroying thousands of hectares of forest in my country, Portugal, and in Spain – require appropriate and rapid prevention and response measures in the area of civil protection.

In working meetings with the local, regional and national authorities of the six countries stricken by natural disasters that I visited in my capacity as rapporteur on behalf of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety for the initiative report on natural disasters, the call was always for simplification and flexibility; in order to help communities, the Community's emergency response instruments need to be simplified and the rules of application made more flexible. Stronger European-level coordination and, of course, increased financial support were also recommended.

 
  
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  Stavros Dimas, Μember of the Commission. (EL) Mr President, I thank the members of the European Parliament for their very constructive interventions. You have tabled a series of very important amendments which are designed to strengthen civil protection facilities at European level and which concern prevention, the need to safeguard financing for civil protection operations in third countries and effective early warning and alert systems. The Commission supports most of the proposed amendments.

I should like to comment in particular on prevention. It is worth noting that its particular aspects, such as the prevention of forest fires or floods, are already covered by special Community financing instruments. The Commission wishes to avoid overlaps with existing financing instruments. Nonetheless, we recognise the need to strengthen the general aspects of prevention within the framework of civil protection and we therefore gladly include the proposed amendments in the proposed financing instrument.

However, although the Commission can accept most of the proposed amendments, there are some which cause problems and cannot be accepted as they stand.

Firstly, the Commission considers that replacing the legal basis with Article 175(1) of the Treaty is not necessary for a civil protection financing instrument. As the Treaty has no special legal basis for civil protection, Article 308 of the Treaty Establishing the European Community has always been used for this purpose. The existing civil protection financing instruments, the action programme and the Community civil protection mechanism are based on this article. In addition, the proposed legal basis refers to environmental protection and public health, whereas civil protection actions also need to cover the protection of people and property, including the cultural heritage.

As regards the integration of interventions in emergencies outside the European Union into the financing instrument, the Commission agrees with the European Parliament on the need to safeguard this type of financing action.

The Commission decided to divide the financing of internal Community actions from external actions by adopting separate legal instruments. In this way, civil protection actions adopted in the countries participating in the civil protection mechanism are covered by the rapid response financing instrument, while civil protection interventions in third countries will be financed from the instrument for stability.

In all events, in order for the instrument for stability to constitute a clear basis for the financing of actions of this type outside the European Union, express reference needs to be made in them to civil protection.

This is the issue on which the Commission's position differs from the European Parliament report. However, I should like to stress that these differences of opinion should not overshadow our common objectives, which are very, very important. We agree wholeheartedly with the European Parliament's ambition to develop a stronger European facility for civil protection interventions, both within and outside the European Union, and the need for increased financing. On this point, I should really like to thank you for your support.

I would, however, emphasise that, with the existing instruments, with the existing facilities and with the existing competences, civil protection and the mechanism which we have in the European Commission responded very, very well to last year's crises, by which I mean the various fires, for example in Portugal, and the floods in countries such as Bulgaria and Romania. We had thirteen such interventions and, of course, the two very big crises in South-East Asia with the tsunami, where the European Union was, through the civil protection mechanism, the first to send representatives to the area. Also, the European Union responded to the destruction caused by hurricane Katrina by providing the assistance which it had proposed three days earlier to the competent authorities in the United States, which is why, of course, we also had the relevant favourable mention from the European Council. It is no bad thing for us also to remember and emphasise certain things which happen under – I would stress – the existing facilities. Of course, we need, as Mr Papadimoulis's report says, to strengthen civil protection.

I should like to file the full list with the Commission's positions on the amendments with Parliament's secretariat(1). I also wish to thank the rapporteur and all the honourable Members once again for their suggestions.

 
  
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  President. The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow.

Written statement (Rule 142)

 
  
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  Véronique Mathieu (PPE-DE). – (FR) The violence of recent natural disasters reminds us how vulnerable our societies are to risks in nature: in 20 years, natural disasters have killed 1.5 million people worldwide. In order to be effective, our handling of this problem must include looking ahead, by means of risk assessment, prevention, education and information for the public.

The EU has made prevention and emergency aid a top priority, by setting up ECHO in 1992, the Dipecho programme in 1996 and the EU Solidarity fund in 2002. In 2005, it also decided to create a European coordination structure that could call on a European body of humanitarian aid volunteers.

The Commission proposes to set up a new rapid response and preparedness mechanism for major emergencies for the period 2007-2013, and we are of course delighted with that. However, the legal basis for this mechanism should be amended to use Article 174, which involves codecision; and the preventative measures should be extended to cover civil protection in third countries and marine pollution. Finally, the budget for this mechanism must ensure that emergency aid is as effective as possible, in terms of both flexibility and responsiveness, and must increase the visibility of Community solidarity within and outside the EU.

 
  
  

Annex - Position of the Commission

Papadimoulis report (A6-0027/2006)

I am pleased to say that there are 52 amendments which the Commission can support fully, in part, or in principle. These are amendments 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 16, 17, 18, 23, 24, 25, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 43, 44, 45, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 73 and 75.

The Commission cannot accept amendments 2, 3, 4, 13, 14, 15, 19, 20, 21, 22, 26, 27, 35, 42, 46, 53, 54, 63, 64, 65, 71, 72 and 74.

 
  

(1)See Annex: ‘Commission position’.

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