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Wednesday, 16 September 2009 - Strasbourg
Forest fires in the summer of 2009

European Parliament resolution of 16 September 2009 on forest fires in the summer of 2009

The European Parliament,

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

–   having regard to its resolutions of 19 June 2008 on stepping up the Union's disaster response capacity(1), of 4 September 2007 on natural disasters(2), of 7 September 2006 on forest fires and floods(3), of 5 September 2002 on floods in Europe(4), of 14 April 2005 on the drought in Portugal(5), of 12 May 2005 on the drought in Spain(6), of 8 September 2005 on natural disasters (fires and floods) in Europe(7) and its resolutions of 18 May 2006 on natural disasters (forest fires, droughts and floods) – agricultural aspects(8), regional development aspects(9) and environmental aspects(10),

–   having regard to Council Decision 2007/779/EC, Euratom of 8 November 2007 establishing a Community Civil Protection Mechanism(11),

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

–   having regard to the European Court of Auditors Special Report No 3/2008 "The European Union Solidarity Fund: how rapid, efficient and flexible is it?",

–   having regard to the Commission Annual Report 2008 on the European Union Solidarity Fund and the Report on the experience gained after six years of applying the new instrument,

–   having regard to Directive 2007/60/EC of the European Parliament and the Council of 23 October 2007 on the assessment and management of flood risks(13),

–   having regard to Council Decision 2007/162/EC, Euratom of 5 March 2007 establishing a Civil Protection Financial Instrument(14),

–   having regard to the conclusions of the Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting of 12 and 13 June 2007 on enhancing the coordination capacity of the Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) within the Community civil protection mechanism,

–   having regard to Michel Barnier's report of 9 May 2006 entitled "For a European civil protection force: europe aid",

–   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 the Commission Communication of 23 February 2009 entitled "A Community approach on the prevention of natural and man-made disasters" (COM(2009)0082),

–   having regard to the unanimously adopted resolution of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly on the "Civil protection and prevention of natural and ecological disasters in the Euro-Mediterranean region",

–   having regard to Rule 110(4) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.   whereas in 2009 the summer was once again marked by devastating wildfires and floods across southern Europe, affecting Member States, outermost regions, applicant countries and the EU's immediate neighbours, and causing both human suffering, with at least 11 lives lost, and immense material and environmental damage,

B.   mindful that, according to the European Forest Fires Information System, the total area of vegetation and woodland affected by the fires in Europe this summer was more than 315 000 hectares, and urging the Commission to act rapidly to mobilise EU resources to the affected areas,

C.   whereas drought and persistent fires are speeding up the process of desertification of large areas of southern Europe, with over 400 000 hectares per year of European forest disappearing over the last decade, seriously damaging the quality of life of the populations involved, and affecting agriculture, stockbreeding and the forest heritage,

D.   whereas over the coming decades, regardless of our global mitigation efforts, there will be an inevitable increase in global temperature, with especially adverse effects for southern Europe, which is predicted to be an extremely vulnerable region in terms of climate change and which already experienced wildfires of unprecedented magnitude in 2007 as a direct result of the extreme heatwaves of that year,

E.   whereas the frequency, severity, complexity and impact of natural and man-made disasters across Europe have increased rapidly over recent years, resulting in loss of human life and property, with catastrophic short- and long-term effects on the economy of the regions affected, including depletion of the natural and cultural heritage, the destruction of economic and social infrastructure, and damage to the environment (in the case of wildfires, loss of natural habitat and biodiversity, deterioration of the microclimate and increases in greenhouse gas emissions),

F.   having regard to the damaging economic and social consequences of the natural disasters for local and regional economies, both in sectors such as tourism and in terms of productive activity in general,

G.   whereas prevention is of particular importance when it comes to protecting against natural, technological and environmental disasters,

H.   whereas the phenomenon of forest fires is also aggravated by the progressive abandonment of the countryside and its traditional activities, inadequate forest maintenance, the existence of large expanses of forest consisting of a single tree species, the planting of unsuitable tree varieties, the absence of a proper prevention policy and insufficiently severe penalties where fires are started deliberately, together with the inadequate implementation of laws prohibiting illegal building and ensuring reafforestation,

I.   whereas some Member States still lack a complete land registry and a proper forest registry and maps which, together with the inadequate implementation of laws prohibiting illegal building on burnt areas, constitute a vacuum that leads to changes in land use and the reclassification of forested land for construction and financial speculation,

J.   whereas the Community Mechanism for Civil Protection has been repeatedly activated in the last few years,

K.   whereas natural disasters such as the increasingly frequent forest fires in southern Europe can also have a cross-border dimension owing to the speed with which they can spread from their original source and their ability to change direction unexpectedly, so that they require flexible, rapid, coordinated and multilateral response efforts; having regard also to the extensive damage they can cause to property, human life, economic activities and the regional environment,

L.   whereas Parliament has repeatedly urged the Council Presidencies to reach a decision on a new Solidarity Fund Regulation since the adoption of its position in May 2006,

M.   whereas, since its creation in 2002, the Solidarity Fund has provided financial support totalling more than EUR 1,5 billion,

N.   whereas the Court of Auditors states that the Solidarity Fund "has achieved its underlying objective, which is to demonstrate solidarity with Member States in disaster situations", although the most important problem remains the lack of rapidity with which the Fund can be activated as a crisis management instrument,

O.   whereas the Commission acknowledges the need to improve the transparency and simplicity of the criteria governing the mobilisation of the Solidarity Fund,

P.   whereas Parliament has submitted successive resolutions since 1995 calling urgently for various European Union initiatives to combat wildfires in southern Europe, which were either not implemented or left incomplete and ineffective,

1.  Expresses its sympathy and profound solidarity with the relatives of those who lost their lives and with residents of the affected areas, and pays homage to the fire-fighters, soldiers, professionals and volunteers who have worked tirelessly and courageously to extinguish fires, rescue people and limit damage from this summer's natural disasters;

2.  Deplores the failure to implement recommendations made in its earlier resolutions on natural disasters;

3.  Notes that the damage caused by the forest fires could have been prevented if some Member States had developed and implemented more efficient prevention policies and adequate legislation on conservation and appropriate land use;

4.  Takes the view that the Commission should submit a proposal for a European strategy to combat natural disasters, including a compulsory approach to risk prevention, and devise a protocol for standardised action for each type of disaster throughout the Union; also takes the view that this strategy should devote particular attention to island and outermost regions with low geographic density;

5.  Asks the Commission and the Member States to ensure that flood-risk management measures focus on prevention; considers that such measures, which work with nature and not against it, would protect people, property and the environment and help achieve environmentally sustainable water management, as well as the EU objective for biodiversity and the EU climate-change adaptation strategy;

6.  Urges the Commission to mobilise the current EU Solidarity Fund in the most flexible manner possible and without delay in order to assist the victims of this summer's natural disasters;

7.  Urges the Commission to support rehabilitation of the regions which have suffered heavy damage, restore the natural habitats in affected areas, seek to relaunch job creation and take appropriate measures to compensate for the social costs inherent in the loss of jobs and other sources of income;

8.  Welcomes the cooperation and assistance offered by other Member States to the affected areas in the framework of the Community Mechanism for Civil Protection; supports the continuation of the pilot project for combating forest fires, and calls on the Commission to report urgently on the pilot project to step up cooperation between Member States and the preparatory action on an EU rapid response capability, and calls for legislative proposals to be presented establishing a genuine Community disaster response capability covering forest fires and other types of disasters;

9.  Emphasises the extreme urgency of this issue and calls in consequence for the creation of an effective European force that could react immediately in emergencies, as proposed in the above-mentioned Barnier report; urges the Commission therefore to come forward with concrete proposals for a European cooperation capability which can respond more rapidly to natural disasters;

10.  Considers that recent experience and that of past years emphasises the need further to reinforce the Community's civil protection, prevention preparedness and response capability in relation to forest fires and other wildfires in southern Europe, and strongly urges the Commission to take action to this end in order to provide visible expression of European solidarity with countries affected by major emergencies; supports activities aimed at enhancing Member States' civil protection preparedness, notably through the exchange of experts and best practice, exercises and preparedness projects;

11.  Recognises the contribution of the Monitoring Information Centre in supporting and facilitating the mobilisation and coordination of civil protection assistance during emergencies;

12.  Emphasises the individual responsibility of the Member States for civil protection and disaster control measures and their primary responsibility for preventing and extinguishing fires; invites the Commission to take the necessary action to establish an independent, permanent European reaction force to assist the Member States and the affected regions during extreme forest fires and other disasters, providing the best equipment and expertise; notes, in this connection, that the Commission should study ways of securing access to complementary capacity that may be available from other sources, including private resources, to ensure a rapid response to major emergencies;

13.  Deeply regrets the fact that so many and such heavy losses have occurred during the fires in certain Member States which had been recently affected by fires of similar magnitude; considers it necessary, in consequence, to examine immediately the adequacy of prevention and preparedness measures in order to ensure that the necessary lessons are drawn with a view to preventing and limiting the devastating effects of similar disasters in Member States in the future; in this regard, urges the Commission to ask Member States to supply details of their operational programmes in place for dealing with natural disasters, with a view to exchanging experience and drawing conclusions on immediate measures, coordination of administrative and operational bodies, and availability of the necessary human resources and material;

14.  Deplores the fact that so many of these forest fires appear to have been started by acts of arson, and is particularly concerned that criminal acts of this kind are increasingly to blame for forest fires in Europe; calls on the Member States, therefore, to strengthen and make use of penal sanctions for criminal acts that damage the environment and, in particular, for those causing forest fires, and believes that prompt and effective investigations in order to establish liability, followed by proportionate punishment, would discourage negligent and deliberate behaviour;

15.  Calls for sanctions requiring the repayment of Community aid by any Member State that does not fully re-aforrest the affected area or allows a change of land use for any speculative development or tourist projects;

16.  Condemns the practice of legalising illegal construction on protected and non-authorised areas;

17.  Points out that arsonists, especially those who gain from rebuilding or the destruction of forest land, can be encouraged by laws that do not strictly define or protect such land and/or by the inadequate application of laws that prohibit illegal building; urges the Member States, therefore, to ensure that all burned forest areas remain forests and are covered by reafforestation programmes;

18.  Calls for more efficient methods for the early detection of forest fires, and better transfer of expertise on fire suppression measures among the Member States, and urges the Commission to improve the exchange of experience among the regions and Member States;

19.  Acknowledges the solidarity shown by the European Union, its Member States and other countries in assisting the affected regions during forest fire emergencies with the supply of aircraft, fire-fighting equipment and expertise, as well as the commendable help given to the relevant authorities and rescue teams; takes the view that the scale and impact of these phenomena frequently go beyond regional and national levels and capabilities, and calls for an effective European commitment as a matter of urgency;

20.  Welcomes the contribution of the European tactical reserve of fire-fighting aircraft (EUFFTR), which was established the summer of 2009 to assist Member States facing major fires; notes that this pilot project was established with Parliament's support in order to step up cooperation among Member States on combating forest fires, and proved to be an excellent example of enhanced capacity at European level providing immediate help in emergency situations; emphasises, in this context, the need to continue the development and reinforcement of this pilot project as we continue to experience circumstances where great devastation occurs because the capacity of Member States and the EUFFTR prove inadequate;

21.  Deplores the fact that the Commission and the Council did not plan any financial commitments for 2010 to continue the preparatory action for an EU rapid response capability already established in 2008 and 2009;

22.  Takes the view that a new European Union Solidarity Fund Regulation is essential as a means of addressing the problems caused by natural disasters in a more flexible and effective way; criticises the fact that the Council blocked progress on this, unlawfully delaying the revision, although Parliament adopted its position by an overwhelming majority at first reading in May 2006;

23.  Emphasises the fact that reviving this initiative could generate major benefits for the practical operation of the Fund, widening its scope, abolishing the exceptional activation of the Fund for regional disasters, allowing more regions to receive assistance by the introduction of a lower damage threshold for mobilising it and, very importantly, allowing a faster disaster response by speeding up payments;

24.  Strongly urges the Commission and Council to exercise maximum responsibility and speed in seeking a compromise in order to reactivate the process of revision of the Solidarity Fund Regulation with a view to creating a stronger and more rapid instrument, able to respond to the new globalisation and climate change challenges; calls on the Swedish Presidency in office, as well as the EU Ministers for Finance, Environment, Agriculture and Regional Development, to take swift and firm action without delay;

25.  Expresses its concern at the increasing number of natural disasters that, according to experts, can be attributed mostly to climate change, and calls on the Commission and the Council to make every effort to achieve an ambitious international agreement at the forthcoming fifth Conference of Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, to be held in Copenhagen, Denmark, from 7 to 18 December 2009;

26.  Stresses the need to enhance prevention measures designed to tackle all types of natural disaster by establishing joint strategic guidelines to ensure better coordination among the Member States, as well as greater operability and coordination among the various Community instruments (Structural Funds, Solidarity Fund, EAFRD, LIFE+ and the mechanism of the rapid response and preparedness instrument for major emergencies), not forgetting the need to involve other existing instruments, such as State aid for regional purposes and European Investment Bank loans, with the aim of remedying the damage caused by natural disasters; calls on the Commission to report on Community funds granted for forest fire protection and whether they have been used in an appropriate manner;

27.  Asks for regional coordination mechanisms to be introduced into rural development programmes in order to enhance the efficiency of prevention measures;

28.  Stresses the need to speed up the procedure for accessing EU funds for the recovery of agricultural land following floods and fires, and for more financial aid to be made available for the development of firebreaks and flood defences; stresses the fatal effects of forest fires and floods on animals and livestock;

29.  Considers it essential to take into account the structural problems of the rural environment (demographic decline, abandonment of farmland, deforestation and the excessive fragmentation of woodland ownership);

30.  Takes the view that the existing links between civil protection and environmental policies should be reinforced in order to take full advantage of the preventive measures included in environmental legislation and ensure a coordinated EU approach to disaster prevention and mitigation; emphasises, however, that there are no plans whatsoever to replace or weaken existing national competencies in civil protection and disaster prevention through EU guidelines;

31.  Believes that the procedures for mobilisation of the Solidarity Fund need to be reviewed in order to speed up payment of aid; considers, in particular, that to that end a system of advance payments based on initial estimates of direct damage could be developed, whereby further payments would depend on the exact calculation of total direct damage and evidence of the prevention measures taken as a result of the disaster;

32.  Calls on the Commission to make progress in devising information and education campaigns on the prevention measures agreed with the Member States in order to reduce the risks and consequences of natural disasters, especially in the areas of highest risk, by making the public aware of the need to care for the environment and conserve natural resources; urges the Commission and the Member States to take measures, including measures to raise public awareness, in support of more sustainable use of water, soil and biological resources and better waste management, the absence of which is often the cause of fires;

33.  Underlines that, quite apart from its severe environmental and economic repercussions, the current frequency of fires in southern Europe – almost 95 % of the total area burnt in the EU is located in the Mediterranean region – is said to be directly linked to the worsening impact of climate change in those areas (erosion and soil loss, desertification and increase in greenhouse gas emissions, including CO2);

34.  Calls, therefore, for an integrated EU strategy for the preservation of the southern European forest ecosystems, which will ensure sufficient financing of prevention measures, measures to reverse extended economic and environmental damage, and the full restoration of the ecosystem, as well as allocations for the adaptation and mitigation of the south European forest ecosystems to climate change;

35.  Stresses that the severe exposure of the forest ecosystems of the Mediterranean regions to climate change should be taken fully into account; calls on the Commission to introduce, among the agri-environmental measures provided for under the common agricultural policy, specific interventions designed to prevent and avoid the spread of forest fires, and to undertake in-depth consideration of the introduction of a common forest policy to deal more effectively with climate change and natural disasters; urges the Commission, in its proposal for an EU action plan for adapting to climate change, to prioritise the prevention and combating of droughts and forest fires in southern Europe;

36.  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(2008)0304.
(2) OJ C 187 E, 24.07.2008, p. 55.
(3) OJ C 305 E, 14.12.2006, p. 240.
(4) OJ C 272 E, 13.11.2003, p. 471.
(5) OJ C 33 E, 9.2.2006, p. 599.
(6) OJ C 92 E, 20.4.2006, p. 414.
(7) OJ C 193 E, 17.8.2006, p. 322.
(8) OJ C 297 E, 7.12.2006, p. 363.
(9) OJ C 297 E, 7.12.2006, p. 369.
(10) OJ C 297 E, 7.12.2006, p. 375.
(11) OJ L 314, 1.12.2007, p. 9.
(12) OJ C 297 E, 7.12.2006, p. 331.
(13) OJ L 288, 6.11.2007, p. 27.
(14) OJ L 71, 10.03.2007, p. 9.

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