Documents considered by the Committee on 15 December 2010 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

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



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COM(10) 600

Commission Communication: Towards a stronger European Disaster Response: the role of civil protection and humanitarian assistance
Legal base
DepartmentCabinet Office
Basis of considerationMinister's letter of 13 December 2010
Previous Committee ReportHC 428-ix (2010-11), chapter 9 (24 November 2010)
To be discussed in Council14 December 2010 General Affairs Council
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared


14.1 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.

14.2 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.

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

14.4 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.

14.5 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.

14.6 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).

14.7 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.

14.8 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.

14.9 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.

14.10 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

14.11 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.

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

Legal aspects

14.13 The Minister noted that the Communication is not draft legislation referring to any specific legal base and contains no legislative proposals. However, she also noted 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).

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


14.15 The Minister noted 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 said:

    "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

14.16 The Minister's detailed comments are set out in our previous Report.[111] They included a number of cautionary words: for example, about the notion of a European Response Capacity based on pre-committed assets of Member States and pre-agreed contingency plans; about any Commission initiatives that might seek to claim additional competence for EU institutions in the consular field; about any changes to the present highly-circumscribed use of Member States military assets in supporting disaster relief activities; about what powers the Commission might seek to acquire in order to create the sort of enhanced 24/7 Emergency Response Centre they seemed to have in mind; and about "the way in which we brand aid [the notion of more EU symbols], noting that "whilst EU visibility can be important, our priority will always be to optimise the delivery of practical benefits through humanitarian assistance and civil protection."

14.17 The Minister went on to explain that all of this will now be examined in Council working parties; and that, as and when more concrete proposals emerge, they would be submitted for scrutiny. She noted 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 said she would "press for full Working Party discussion of the proposals in the Communication before substantive Council Conclusions on their content are tabled."

The Minister's undated letter

14.18 In an associated, but undated letter, the Minister said that she would 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".

Our assessment

14.19 We thanked the Minister for her full, clear and helpful Explanatory Memorandum, and endorsed her approach to the Communication.

14.20 We asked her to write in due time ahead of the Council meeting to which she referred with as much information as possible about the nature of the draft Council Conclusions that she expected to be adopted and her views on the extent to which they safeguarded the UK position and, if it were the case, the areas over which she had continuing concerns.

14.21 In the meantime we retained the Communication under scrutiny.

The Minister's further letter of 13 December 2010

14.22 The Minister says that the Conclusions are "broadly formulated while reflecting all the specific proposals contained in the Communication", and "envisage that the competent official Council formations and Working Parties will examine these proposals and identify those which might be included in the scope of new legislative measures when the Commission introduces revised legal instruments next year."

14.23 She then says:

    "The Government pressed for purely procedural Conclusions. These draft Conclusions include possible suggestions for inclusion in legal instruments. The draft Conclusions do not however impose binding obligations on the UK and will allow Parliamentary scrutiny to inform the Government's work on the legislative proposals when they are made next year. Government is, therefore, minded to accept this approach while remaining vigilant on the proposals to come".

14.24 The General Affairs Council (GAC) adopted Conclusions on the Communication on 14 December (reproduced at the Annex to this chapter of our Report).[112]


14.25 We thank the Minister for this further information.

14.26 Looking ahead, we ask the Minister to ensure that any legislative proposals that emerge next year are submitted in good time, so that the scrutiny process is, as she commendably wishes, able properly to inform the Government's position.

14.27 We now clear the Communication.

Annex: Council conclusions on the Communication "Towards a stronger European disaster response: the role of civil protection and humanitarian assistance"

"1. Considering that the Union's territory and citizens are increasingly exposed to the impact of disasters, as are many countries and regions around the world especially in developing countries, with a corresponding increase in the loss of life, economic, social and environmental damages, and that an approach that links disaster response with disaster prevention, disaster risk reduction and preparedness, is the best way to manage these risks;

"2. Pointing out that measures taken at the EU level to improve disaster response should not in any way undermine Member States' own responsibility to take action and build up the necessary capacity in areas of prevention, preparedness and response, and that Member States will retain full control of their national assets (see inter alia Article 196 TFUE);

"3. Considering that EU disaster response is primarily delivered through humanitarian assistance and through civil protection assets; that this response may also make use of CSDP and/or military assets in particular for the delivery of relief assistance when the need arises, in line with established international guidelines, in particular the principles laid down in the Oslo guidelines;[113] and that improved cooperation with other relevant international bodies should minimise duplication of effort;

"4. Considering that appropriate coordination must be ensured at the EU level taking into account the roles of the Commission, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the European External Action Service, under the institutional architecture and responsibilities defined by the Lisbon Treaty;

"5. Underlining that European relief assistance outside the Union is needs-driven and bound by internationally agreed humanitarian principles (humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence) and guidelines, as enshrined in the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid;[114]

"6. Reaffirming in particular the central coordinating role of the UN as set out in the European Consensus on humanitarian aid, the Council decision establishing a Community Civil Protection Mechanism and in accordance with the Council conclusions of 28 November 2008 on strengthening relations between the European Union and the United Nations as regards disaster response capacity.[115]

"The Council of the European Union

"7. Welcomes the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council — "Towards a stronger European disaster response: the role of civil protection and humanitarian assistance"[116] and its general objectives aiming at a more predictable, effective, efficient, coherent and visible European response to disasters;

"8. Agrees that an enhanced, cost-effective European response must follow an all-hazard approach, should bring together all relevant players, in particular civil protection and humanitarian assistance actors, and should ensure consistency and synergies between the different instruments ;

"9. Underlines that an effective crisis emergency centre requires a 24/7 operational capacity and should provide a coordination platform supporting other European services dealing with major disasters; Welcomes the Commission's decision to merge the ECHO crisis room and the MIC to create an Emergency Response Centre that must be able, in full compliance with paragraph 2, to improve planning and coordination;

10. Recognises that lessons learnt from recent disasters suggest that, even though the EU response has been effective and swift, there is room for improvement; notes that the Commission communication puts forward many interesting suggestions to this effect; and Considers that, subject to the discussions that the competent Council formations and Working Parties will have on the revised legal instruments that the Commission is expected to propose in 2011, an enhanced European disaster response might include:

·  "improved planning of interventions where appropriate, through the use and improvement of reference scenarios constructed on the basis of comprehensive and high quality risk assessments;

·  "more predictable availability of Member States key assets, inter alia by setting up a pool of pre-identified assets, available within pre-agreed response times, to be deployed through a voluntary commitment from Member States to make these assets available on a voluntary basis for European disaster relief interventions both inside and outside the Union (with Member States retaining full authority over their assets, their deployment and at all times retaining full right of use over these assets);

·  "an approach which takes also into account regional needs, shared extreme risks and, bearing in mind the previous point, the common use of certain assets, based on the principles outlined in paragraph 2;

·  "improved, more cost effective and well-coordinated transport of in-kind assistance to disaster sites;

·  "improved joint, cross-sectoral and comparable needs assessment in order to ensure well-informed decision-making;

·  "better and strengthened contributions to the efforts of central international players, in particular with the UN, by optimising synergies and information-sharing, inter alia through the deployment and secondment of EU staff to the local UN coordination system;

·  "a comprehensive communications strategy, involving all EU institutions and Member States, that will improve the overall visibility of the European actions;

·  "improved EU assessment for interventions in third countries, with a view to supporting the central coordinating role of the UN;

"11. Notes that the legislative proposals brought forward by the Commission will be dealt with by the competent Council formations and working parties;

"12. Considers the Commission proposals as a building block of a broader and more coherent effort towards a strengthened European disaster response and therefore looks also forward to examining the forthcoming proposals of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the Commission regarding the further developments, notably on the use of CSDP and/or military capabilities as part of the European disaster response and the proposal to implement Article 222 (solidarity clause), having regard to the Decision of the Heads of State and Government annexed to the European Council conclusions of June 2009, and Article 20 (2 c) of the Treaty (consular protection) and on coordination, coherence and consistency in the context of EU crisis response and management."

111   See headnote: HC 428-ix (2010-11), chapter 9 (24 November 2010). Back

112   And available at Back

113   Guidelines on the Use of Foreign Military and Civil Defence Assets in Disaster Relief - "Oslo Guidelines" (Revision 1.1 November 2007), at$file/OCHA-Nov2006.pdf?openelement. Back

114   OJ C 25, 30.1.2008, p. 1. Back

115   16753/08. Back

116   15614/10 + ADD 1 + ADD 2 Back

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