The floods that devastated some regions in the north of Italy last week have once again demonstrated the urgency for the European Union to adopt a new collective approach to better deal with risks and crises and improve territorial resilience. This was the main message that local and regional leaders delivered to Janez Lenarčič, European Commissioner for Crisis Management, during a debate held as part of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) plenary session on 24 May. Members of the Committee underlined that a particular focus should be given to tackling social and territorial vulnerabilities at local level, in order to reduce the impact of future crisis. The requests were included in an opinion adopted immediately after the debate, drafted by Christophe Clergeau (FR/PES), member of the Pays de la Loire Regional Council.
In recent years, European territories have been hit by large-scale and unpredictable crises that did not stop at administrative borders and affected in particular the most vulnerable parts of the population, exacerbating inequalities of health and well-being. The deadly forest fires in Portugal in 2017, the earthquake in Croatia in winter 2020, the storm that ravaged south-eastern France in October 2020 or the floods in Germany and Belgium in summer 2021, and in Italian region Emilia-Romagna last week are some examples of these extreme events that hit European communities, putting local actors at the forefront of the public response. In a debate with the European Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič, members of the CoR stated that, in order to better deal with these events, Europe must move from a risk management approach to a new shared culture of societal preparedness with more resilient and proactive societies. EU and national institutions must invest in the collective preparedness of our society for crises and disasters, with special emphasis on keeping public services accessible and a focus on the most vulnerable.
The President of the CoR, Vasco Alves Cordeiro, said: " Just last week, we have seen another example of how natural disasters affect people's live dramatically: The Emilia-Romagna region in Italy suffered from the consequences of torrential rain. Local and regional politicians are at the forefront when consequences of climate change become tangible and they need to manage emergencies, mobilising all their resources. Still, the decision-making power of local and regional authorities in the field of climate and environmental protection is limited. This is why the debate with Commissioner Lenarčič was important today. As Commissioner for crises management, it is of utmost importance that the experiences of local and regional authorities on the ground feed into his decisions. We also shared with him some positive examples of cities and regions that are improving their capacity to fight fires, floods or droughts. In Europe, we need to learn from each other and also improve our cross-border cooperation in times of natural disasters and crises."
Commissioner Lenarčič highlighted that "As the global risk landscape worsens, we increasingly face disasters with effects that cross borders and sectors. We must work together to build a safer, more resilient future for communities and regions across Europe. That is why we have launched the five Disaster Resilience Goals and flagship initiatives. These enable regions to anticipate and withstand future emergencies. The implementation of these initiatives by local and regional authorities within their communities is key to making these Goals a reality."
Local and regional leaders presented their concerns and requests in the opinion "Preparing for and dealing with crises: strengthening the resilience of the Union, its regions and cities", adopted during the plenary session. The rapporteur, Christophe Clergeau (FR/PES), member of the Pays de la Loire Regional Council, stated: "We need to move from a culture of civil protection to a culture of societal preparedness. For this, it is important that European policies, such as Cohesion Policy, finance long-term preparedness and adaptation actions for future crises. Regions and cities are the EU’s best allies in identifying vulnerabilities, in particular the social ones, taking them into account and responding to disasters. They must be part of the resilience equation at European level."
The CoR opinion highlights the importance of putting vulnerability analysis at the heart of the future Cohesion Policy. It therefore welcomes the development of an index and calls for the creation of a consolidated regional and local scoreboard of social and territorial vulnerability by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission. Members of the Committee ask for a full political and financial support by EU institutions and member states for this initiative, that should be applied at all territorial levels to better understand the vulnerabilities linked to risks in each territory, to combat social and territorial inequalities and to guide public policies.
Moreover, local and regional leaders propose the creation of a European risk and crisis school, which would provide training pathways to local, national and European decision-makers as well as enable them to exchange knowledge and design common working methods to respond to crises. The EU should also adopt a "72-hour strategy for dealing with crises" adapted to local specificities, to strengthen the preparedness of local communities and the capacity of citizens to join forces in the initial hours of a crisis while they wait for help to arrive.
Best practices on how regions and cities tackled recent crisis can be found in this video.
In February 2023, the European Commission established five common European Disaster Resilience Goals, which include ways for Member States to better anticipate, prepare, alert, respond and secure citizens when natural hazards occur. To kick off the implementation of these goals, the European Commission launched five flagship initiatives, one under each goal.
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