The European Union should give local communities and governments a greater role in its emergency response to disasters, the European Committee of the Regions said in recommendations adopted on 16 May that also insisted that attention to the prevention of disasters still needs to be increased.
EU-level action must be focused on coordination and supporting the actions of Member States and their local and regional authorities rather than centralising competences at EU level, the EU's assembly for local and regional politicians also argued, underlining that local community action is often the fastest and most effective way of limiting the damage caused by a disaster.
The recommendations on the Review of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism were drawn up by Adam Banaszak (PL/ECR), Vice-President of the Kujawsko-Pomorskie Regional Assembly.
Mr Banaszak said: "Disasters know no borders and their frequency and intensity is increasing. We therefore need to step up our efforts in coordinating response and preventative action. I am concerned though that the EU is not focusing enough on preventative action and on local community responses. Our infrastructure needs to be able to better withstand the negative effects of disasters. Given that almost all of the first responses to disasters in Europe are led by the local community, we need to work more with local volunteer groups."
The CoR's opinion also noted that, in many cases, the local and regional levels of government have more knowledge about risks than do national government or the European Commission.
Speaking at the CoR's plenary meeting on 16 May, MEP Elisabetta Gardini (IT/EPP), the European Parliament's rapporteur, said: "It is high time for the EU to demonstrate its solidarity in concrete terms. We have to listen to the 90% of citizens demanding for more civil protection. Through the new Mechanism, we are responding to our citizens' request for more solidarity with maximum efficiency and minimum bureaucracy. Not in theory, but in practice."
The EU Civil Protection Mechanism , whose current legal framework dates to January 2014, has two basic objectives. First, it helps strengthen cooperation between the EU and participating countries. Second, it aims to facilitate coordination in the field of civil protection in order to improve the effectiveness of systems for preventing, preparing for and responding to natural and man-made disasters. The Civil Protection Mechanism has been used extensively since its creation in 2001 – a total of 56 times in 2016 and 2017, both inside and outside the EU – but concerns about its ability to provide EU member states with the aid they need, or to provide it quickly enough, prompted the European Commission to propose a reform in November 2017.
Mr Banaszak welcomed a proposal by the Commission to create a European-level reserve for civil protection capabilities (rescEU), as recognition that some natural disasters overwhelm the capabilities of national authorities. At the same time, he highlighted the concerns of some local and regional authorities that the Commission's proposal breaches the principle of subsidiarity. To address these concerns, the CoR said the Commission should consider making an impact assessment of its proposal.
The CoR also underlined that, while response assistance is crucial, the focus must increasingly be on resilience to future disasters. It says that improving the EU Civil Protection Mechanism should be viewed as an integral part of activities aimed at dealing with the consequences of climate change. Specifically, it called for greater synergies between the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, and the "Making Cities Resilient" campaign of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.
Many countries have been affected in recent years by climate change and by social, environmental and economic disasters, whether natural or man-made. In 2017, 200 people died as a result of natural disasters in Europe. The economic costs are also considerable: in 2016, the continent of Europe saw losses of almost EUR 10 billion.
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