Documents considered by the Committee on 24 November - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

9 European disaster response: the role of civil protection and humanitarian assistance



COM(10) 600

Commission Communication: Towards a stronger European Disaster Response: the role of civil protection and humanitarian assistance

Legal base
Document originated26 October 2010
Deposited in Parliament2 November 2010
DepartmentHome Office
Basis of considerationEM of 15 November 2010
Previous Committee ReportNone
To be discussed in Council14 December 2010 General Affairs Council
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared; further information requested


9.1 The Union has, since 2001, had a Civil Protection Mechanism which seeks to strengthen co-operation between the EU and its Member States in the event of major emergencies, such as a natural or man-made disaster, acts of terrorism, or damage to the environment, which occur within or outside the EU. Member States participating in the Civil Protection Mechanism are required to identify in advance intervention teams and any other forms of support which may be mobilised in response to an emergency. A 24-hour Monitoring and Information Centre serves as a communications hub for any emergency relief operations launched under the Civil Protection Mechanism, disseminates information (including early warnings) and seeks to match offers of assistance to actual needs and identify any gaps in aid.

9.2 The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) makes clear that the principal responsibility for civil protection rests with the Member States, but provides that the EU has competence to "support, co-ordinate or supplement" their actions (Article 6 TFEU). The Treaty establishes a specific new legal base for civil protection — Article 196 — which states that action by the Union shall aim to:

a)  support and complement Member States' action at national, regional and local level in risk prevention, in preparing their civil protection personnel and in responding to natural or man-made disasters within the Union;

b)  promote swift, effective operational co-operation within the Union between national civil protection services; and

c)  promote consistency in international civil protection work.

9.3 There are two different Treaty Articles which deal, respectively, with emergencies outside the EU and those within the EU.

9.4 For internal emergencies, Article 222 TFEU — the "Solidarity clause" — states that the Union and its Member States "shall act jointly in a spirit of solidarity" and mobilise all available instruments to assist a Member State (at its request) in the event of a terrorist attack or a natural or man-made disaster. Arrangements for implementing the solidarity clause are to be based on a proposal put forward by the Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and must be adopted by unanimity if they involve the use of military resources or have defence implications.

9.5 For external emergencies, Article 214 TFEU on humanitarian aid provides for "ad hoc assistance and relief and protection for people in third countries who are victims of natural or man-made disasters, in order to meet the humanitarian needs resulting from these different situations." EU operations and those of Member States should complement each other and be mutually reinforcing. The EU must also ensure that its operations are co-ordinated and consistent with other humanitarian bodies, notably those operating under the UN umbrella.

9.6 A new Commissioner has been created, whose portfolio (held by Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva) brings together the instruments for civil protection and emergency response, and which will require close coordination with both the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President (Baroness Catherine Ashton).

9.7 For humanitarian aid outside the EU, the Commissioner will be responsible for the swift and effective delivery of aid and the promotion of respect for international humanitarian law. The EU's humanitarian grants cover emergency aid, food aid and aid to refugees and displaced person, totalling more than €700 million per annum. The Commission's DG for humanitarian aid (widely known as ECHO) also:

—  monitors humanitarian projects and sets up coordination arrangements;

—  promotes and coordinates disaster prevention measures;

—  gives its partners technical assistance; and

—  finances network and training initiatives in the humanitarian field.

9.8 For disaster response outside the EU, the Commissioner will be able to draw on a range of EU instruments, including civil protection assets provided by Member States.

9.9 The Commissioner will be supported in both tasks by the EU Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC), which is run by the Commission and is operational 24 hours a day. Any country affected by a disaster, inside or outside the EU, can launch a request for assistance through the MIC.

9.10 Commissioner Georgieva will also have a role in supporting the Commissioner responsible for Home Affairs (Cecilia Malmström), who will be responsible for crisis response within the EU.

The Commission Communication

9.11 Against this background and that of increasing disasters both within the EU and internationally, the Commission sets out proposals for EU action to build upon existing European disaster response capacity, by enhancing its efficiency, coherence and visibility. The proposals address the potential response to disasters inside and outside the EU. They consider both civil protection and humanitarian assistance in the context of Lisbon Treaty provisions and a desire to achieve greater cost-effectiveness. The main proposals concern:

—  creation of a European Response Capacity based on pre-committed assets of Member States and on pre-agreed contingency plans;

—  pre-positioning of relief assets; improved needs assessments; shared, more effective and more cost-effective logistics; coordinated and cost-effective transport;

—  use of Member States' military assets and Common Security and Defence Policy support for EU disaster response;

—  developing an enhanced 24/7 Emergency Response Centre covering both intra-EU and external disaster preparedness and management;

—  strengthening coordination with the UN, the Red Cross and Red Crescent and international humanitarian NGOs; and

—  ways to present a more visible EU response.

9.12 In her Explanatory Memorandum of 15 November 2010, the Minister for Security at the Home Office (Baroness Neville-Jones) explains that she is responsible for cross-cutting resilience policy and is supported in this role by the Cabinet Office's National Security Secretariat.

9.13 The Minister notes that civil protection is a devolved matter under the UK's devolution settlements and the Devolved Administrations have been consulted in the preparation of her Explanatory Memorandum; as, too, have the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence, and the Department for International Development.

Legal Aspects

9.14 The Minister notes that the Communication is not draft legislation referring to any specific legal base and contains no legislative proposals. However, she notes that it envisages legislative proposals in 2011 to implement its main policy ideas, and makes reference to TFEU Articles on Civil Protection (Article 196), Humanitarian Aid (Article 214) and the Solidarity Clause (Article 222).

9.15 The Minister also notes that, if the Commission brings forward legislative proposals under TFEU Articles 196 and 214, then these would require qualified majority voting in Council; and that proposals with defence implications would require unanimity in accordance with the TEU Article 31.


9.16 The Minister notes that the Commission's impact assessment accompanying the Communication states that the difficulties of multilateral cooperation among Member States demonstrate the need for EU-level action and coordination to address disaster-related time-critical situations with a strong transnational or multinational component; that current arrangements do not appear to guarantee sufficient European assistance; and that purely domestic action cannot guarantee an effective, coherent and visible EU response to disasters. She then says:

"However, the Communication's proposals for EU-level action and for enabling a guaranteed response are not sufficiently detailed to rule out future concerns over subsidiarity. The Government's view is that the consistency of the Commission's proposals with the principle of subsidiarity has yet to be examined; and HMG will continue rigorously to uphold this principle."

The Government's view

9.17 The Minister considers what she describes as the broad policy proposals, and set out the Governments views, as follows:


"The Commission proposes to move from the current flexible if ad hoc civil protection response by developing prior contingency plans based on reference scenarios for disasters inside and outside the EU and on information about the response assets which Member States could make available. It further proposes to establish a pool of voluntarily pre-committed civil protection assets, under national command and control, on-call for EU operations unless needed for domestic emergencies; when not used for EU operations, such assets would remain at full disposal for national purposes. Further, where Commission contingency planning identifies capacity gaps in Member States, then these could justify complementary EU-funded assets.

"HMG views with caution proposals to develop contingency plans on the basis of reference scenarios drawn from around the world and the response assets which Member States have already declared as modules. Unless based on credible national risk assessments, the reference scenarios would be unlikely to reflect Member States' needs. The Commission is due to provide in 2012 a cross-sector overview of major risks facing the EU based on national risk assessments; and this might enable appropriate EU-level contingency planning for disasters inside the EU.

"For disasters outside the EU, HMG would look to ensure that any EU contingency plans were developed in conjunction with the UN as the lead agency in humanitarian response.

"Government supports the principle of a genuinely voluntary asset pool along the lines of the existing modules system; but UK domestic disaster response assets are locally held and often based on dual-use capability so we cannot pre-commit such assets for EU deployment whether inside or outside the EU. HMG would resist moves to prioritise EU operations over national purposes, or to introduce a legal presumption that Member States will pre-commit disaster response assets for EU operational deployment in any way limiting their right to decide how such assets should be deployed whether domestically or internationally.

"HMG also views with caution moves to develop complementary EU-funded assets. Premature development of EU-funded assets could discourage Member States from acting in accord with the principle of subsidiarity, including where this would justify cooperating with Member States sharing specified risks. However, the Commission's planned 2012 cross-sector overview of major risks and additional research might identify extreme large-scale and low-probability events for which a case could be made for investment in complementary assets. HMG would work to ensure that any such assets were funded from existing EU budget lines.


"The Commission proposes a review of experience of EU engagement with humanitarian partners and to explore options for developing this approach; and to seek to use, where available, Member States' existing pre-positioning systems in third countries.

"The UK currently prepositions some relief goods in regional hubs in Dubai (for emergencies in the Middle East, Asia and Africa), the Cayman Islands (for hurricane responses in the Caribbean) and the UK. Prepositioning of goods and assets is being reviewed as part of HMG's Humanitarian Emergency Response Review.


"The Commission proposes to support UN-led efforts for joint, cross-sector and comparable needs assessments; to deploy EU experts as liaison officers with the UN system; to increase capacity of EU assessment teams including where necessary to fill gaps in UN capacity; and to ensure adequate EU expert participation in post-disaster needs assessments.

"In recent years, Member States' experts trained in the Civil Protection Mechanism have deployed in response to disasters as members of UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination teams. HMG welcomes the continued strengthening of EU-UN cooperation and will study any more detailed future proposals in this context.


"The Commission proposes to deploy Technical Assistance and Support Teams (TAST) more systematically and to guarantee their availability; to develop with the External Action Service options for better TAST support to EU Delegations, consular authorities and other EU and international actors in emergencies outside the EU; and to seek to develop these arrangements into an EU field coordination centre.

"We support efforts to look at how we can improve aid logistics and will be examining this issue as part of HMG's Humanitarian Emergency Response Review. HMG opposes any Commission initiatives that appear to claim additional competence for the EU institutions in the consular field. HMG believes that this Commission paper reflects an aim to create single European Consular teams designed to respond to mass casualty situations. This would be outside the remit of the Treaties, which provide simply for "support to Member States" in consular affairs. HMG is satisfied that the current Treaty arrangements (where missions of Member States present in a particular country provide consular assistance to EU nationals whose states are not represented) work well. In addition, the UK also supports the "Lead State" principle, which applies in countries where there are few EU Member State missions, and allows an EU Member State mission to take the lead on evacuation, with the consent of other Member States (e.g. the UK is the Lead State in St Lucia; France in Madagascar etc).


"The Commission proposes simpler and stronger transport pooling and co-financing arrangements; private sector engagement on options for commercial provision; fuller use of the existing framework for military asset use and Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) coordination tools; and continued support for humanitarian and UN transport capacities.

"UK and other countries of the International Humanitarian Partnership benefited from EU transport support during the response to 2010 Pakistan floods. Pending detailed Commission proposals, HMG welcomes the aim of simplifying current arrangements for transport pooling and co-finance. The Commission's existing contract with a private sector transport broker has assisted responding countries in identifying potential transport solutions. HMG interprets the Commission's proposal to engage with the private sector as a welcome continuation of this practice.

"The 2006 framework for use of military or military chartered transport assets in support of EU disaster response was first used during the 2010 Pakistan flood response. The UK benefited from this through two flights facilitated by the EU Military Staff's Movement Planning Cell. It is unclear what the Commission envisages by its proposal to make "full use of" the agreed framework. HMG will examine future such proposals with care when these are made.

"HMG welcomes the Commission's proposals to support humanitarian organisations and the UN in developing appropriate transport options. During the response to 2010 Pakistan floods, the current instrument enabled the UK to obtain space for a British Non-Governmental Organisation on another Member State's aid flight to Pakistan.


"The Commission proposes to develop a new European Emergency Response Centre (EERC; see below) which would be the operational emergency relief interface with CSDP coordination tools so as to match humanitarian needs on the ground with the provision of Member States' crisis management assets.

"HMG recognises that military assets can play a significant role in supporting disaster relief activities, but stresses that these should be used only when there are no civilian alternatives and that decisions are for national authorities acting on a case-by-case basis. It is unclear how CSDP, as an outward-facing part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), should contribute to disaster response within the EU. The Communication notes that specific proposals will be presented separately by the High Representative and the Commission in due course.

"The UK has consistently argued against any earmarking or pre-commitment of military assets for civil protection tasks that might pre-judge national decisions to be made case-by-case on whether or not to make assets available or to tie up hard-pressed military capacity. HMG will continue to resist any proposals for pre-commitment by Member States of military assets to EU disaster response arrangements.


"The Commission proposes that a new European Emergency Response Centre (EERC) will combine the current Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) and ECHO crisis rooms. The new facility would match crisis management assets to needs and identify Member States' military assets potentially available to support the response. Bringing together civil protection and humanitarian aid, the EERC would operate around the clock, including in close collaboration with services responsible for the Internal Security Strategy; develop over time into a platform supporting other disaster-related services; and establish working arrangements with the new External Action Service. The Centre's role would mark a change from the MIC's information-sharing and emergency response functions to planning, monitoring, preparing, operational coordination and logistical support. With this new role, the Centre would develop reference scenarios for disaster types within and outside the EU, and facilitate operational coordination with other EU actors.

"In terms of access to management and planning arrangements, HMG supports the proposal for the new Centre to be the Commission's operational interface with CSDP coordination tools. However, implementing these proposals would significantly alter the mandates of the existing MIC and DG ECHO crisis rooms. HMG will examine future detailed proposals to change the mandates when these are made.

"HMG welcomes the move to enhance practical relations between EU civil protection and humanitarian assistance arrangements within the wider context of post-Lisbon Treaty structures. The Commission does not, however, currently have a mandate for operational coordination of Member States' assets inside the EU but can facilitate such coordination and liaise with the host nation's competent authorities. A mandate for operational coordination within the EU would seem to entail a degree of control over the deployable assets of Member States. HMG would not support extending the Commission's mandate in these terms.

"HMG views with concern the Commission's separation of work on risk assessment from that on disaster reference scenarios. High quality national risk assessment is an appropriate basis for contingency planning.


"The Commission proposes to strengthen EU support to UN coordination of humanitarian assistance including through staff deployments and secondments; to use the EERC to streamline EU-UN information flows; and to improve UN financial reporting of EU assistance. The Commission also proposes nominating humanitarian focal points linked to civil protection national contact points in Member States; developing a web-based information tool; and encouraging timely reporting by Member States of their humanitarian assistance.

"Government supports the central coordinating role of the UN and is keen to ensure that the proposals outlined support this role and the EU's relationship with the UN. HMG's Humanitarian Emergency Response Review will touch on the UK's relationship with other organisations such as the UN. The Government supports efforts to enhance coordination and cooperation in the fields of civil protection and humanitarian assistance.


"The Commission proposes presenting a single overall figure for EU emergency relief; working to ensure use of EU symbols in conjunction with national badges in disaster response assistance; exploring ways for partner organisations to give adequate visibility to emergency assistance funded by the EU; monitoring more closely the respect of existing funding conditions; and considering appropriate branding of a strengthened EU response capacity.

HMG would be cautious about any changes to the way in which we brand aid; and whilst EU visibility can be important, our priority will always be to optimise the delivery of practical benefits through humanitarian assistance and civil protection."

Impact assessments

9.18 Beyond the legislative aspects noted above, the Minister says that the proposals are not sufficiently detailed to assess their impact on business or civil society.

Financial implications

9.19 The Minister says that the financial implications of the proposals are unclear and will depend on the nature of anticipated new legislative proposals, and that the Government considers that any agreed changes should be funded from within existing EU budgetary provisions.


9.20 The Minister says that although the Communication contains no specific regulatory proposals, the Government will consult civil protection bodies on the general proposals as appropriate.


9.21 Finally, the Minister says that, prior to the Commission plans to bring forward legislative proposals in 2011, the Belgian Presidency envisages that Council Conclusions on this Communication should be adopted at the 14th December General Affairs Council, and that she "will press for full Working Party discussion of the proposals in the Communication before substantive Council Conclusions on their content are tabled."

The Minister's letter

9.22 In an associated, but undated letter, the Minister says that she will press the Presidency for Conclusions "which are purely procedural at this stage so as to ensure that Council Working Parties have the chance fully to deliberate the Commission's substantive proposals", which "may enable Parliamentary Scrutiny of the Communication to inform the Government's approach to the Commission's detailed ideas and any resulting Council Conclusions".


9.23 We are grateful to the Minister for her full, clear and helpful Explanatory Memorandum, and endorse the approach she has outlined to the Communication.

9.24 We should like her to write in due time ahead of the Council meeting to which she refers with as much information as possible about the nature of the draft Council Conclusions that she expects to be adopted and her views on the extent to which they safeguard the UK position and, if it is the case, the areas over which she has continuing concerns.

9.25 In the meantime we shall continue to retain the Communication under scrutiny.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2010
Prepared 8 December 2010