The overall objective of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism is to strengthen cooperation between the EU Member States, 6 Participating States and the UK during the transition period, in the field of civil protection, with a view to improve prevention, preparedness and response to disasters. When the scale of an emergency overwhelms the response capabilities of a country, it can request assistance via the Mechanism. Through the Mechanism, the European Commission plays a key role in coordinating the response to disasters in Europe and beyond and contributes to at least 75% of the transport and/or operational costs of deployments.
Disasters know no borders and can hit one or several countries simultaneously without warning. Having a well-coordinated joint response means that when national authorities are overwhelmed, they have one point of contact, rather than multiple to deal with. A joint approach further helps to pool expertise and capacities of first responders, avoids duplication of relief efforts and ensures that assistance meets the needs of those affected.
By pooling together civil protection capacities and capabilities, it allows for a stronger and more coherent collective response. In addition to the EU Member States, there are currently 6 Participating States to the Mechanism (Iceland, Norway, Serbia, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Turkey). Since its inception in 2001, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism has responded to over 330 requests for assistance inside and outside the EU.
The Mechanism also helps to coordinate disaster preparedness and prevention activities of national authorities and contributes to the exchange of best practices. This facilitates the continuous development of higher common standards enabling teams to better understand different approaches and work interchangeably when a disaster strikes.
Following a request for assistance through the Mechanism, the Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) mobilises assistance or expertise. The ERCC monitors events around the globe 24/7 and ensures rapid deployment of emergency support through a direct link with national civil protection authorities. Specialised teams and equipment, such as forest firefighting planes, search and rescue, and medical teams can be mobilised at short notice for deployments inside and outside Europe.
Satellite maps produced by the Copernicus Emergency Management Service also support civil protection operations. Copernicus provides timely and precise geospatial information that is useful to delineate affected areas and plan disaster relief operations.
In developing countries, civil protection assistance typically goes hand in hand with EU humanitarian aid. Experts in both fields work closely together to ensure the most coherent analysis and response, particularly in response to complex emergencies. The Mechanism also intervenes in marine pollution emergencies: the Centre can quickly mobilise oil recovery capacity and expertise from the Participating States and European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA).
Any country in the world, but also the United Nations and its agencies or a relevant international organisation, can call on the EU Civil Protection Mechanism for help. The Mechanism has intervened in some of the most devastating disasters and complex emergencies. Examples include the Ebola outbreak in West Africa (2014) and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2018), and recently in the aftermath of tropical cyclone Idai in Mozambique (2019), earthquake in Albania (2019) and forest fires in Sweden (2018), Bolivia (2019) or Greece (2019).
EU Member States and Participating States may commit national resources for emergency response to the European Civil Protection Pool (ECPP). This pool allows for better planning and coordination of response activities at European and national levels which means a faster and reliable EU response to disasters. The ECPP constitutes the backbone of the Mechanism.
Prevention and preparedness activities mitigate the effects of disasters. A training programme for civil protection experts from EU Member States and Participating States ensures compatibility and complementarity between intervention teams, while large-scale exercises train capacities for specific disasters each year.
The EU supports and complements prevention and preparedness efforts of its Member States and Participating States by focusing on areas where a joint European approach is more effective than separate national actions. These include risk assessments to identify the disaster risks across the EU, encouraging research to promote disaster resilience and reinforcing early warning tools.
In 2019, the EU strengthened all components of its disaster risk management to better protect citizens from disasters. The upgraded EU Civil Protection Mechanism established a new European reserve of additional capacities (the ‘rescEU reserve’) that includes firefighting planes and helicopters, medical evacuation capacities and a medical team trained for setting up a field hospital. Through the strengthened Mechanism, the EU will be better prepared and respond to all types of emergencies, such as chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear emergencies, and through common stockpiling of medicine.