Documents considered by the Committee on 24 January 2018 Contents

2The EU Civil Protection Mechanism: strengthening EU disaster management

Committee’s assessment

Legally and politically important

Committee’s decision

(a) Cleared from scrutiny

(b) Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; (a)and (b) drawn to the attention of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee

Document details

(a) Commission Communication: Strengthening EU Disaster Management

(b) Proposed Decision amending Decision No 1313/2013/EU on a Union Civil Protection Mechanism

Legal base

(a)—

(b) Article 196 TFEU, ordinary legislative procedure, QMV

Department

Cabinet Office

Document Numbers

(a) (39266), 14883/17, COM(17) 773; (b) (39265), 14884/17, COM(17) 772

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

2.1The EU Civil Protection Mechanism was established in 2001 to support Member States’ efforts in preventing, preparing for and responding to natural or man-made disasters occurring within or outside the EU. It was overhauled in 2013 to strengthen the focus on disaster prevention, risk management and enhancing the collective operational capacity of the EU and Member States to plan for and respond to disasters through the creation of an Emergency Response Coordination Centre operating around the clock and a voluntary pool of response capacities (equipment and personnel) committed in advance by Member States.

2.2Extreme weather events, earthquakes, health emergencies and large-scale terrorist attacks in recent years have increased the demands placed on the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. The Commission considers that additional capacity is needed to fill gaps in the assets made available to the Mechanism and ensure that it is able to respond at times when Member States’ own capacities are stretched to their limits.

2.3The Commission Communication—document (a)—provides an overview of the threats facing Member States and their human, environmental and economic impact. It calls for a restructuring of the existing voluntary pool of response capacities to increase the incentives for Member States to commit assets to a European Civil Protection Pool and make it harder for Member States to withhold these assets in the event of a disaster. The disaster response capacities provided by Member States would continue to remain under their command and control. The Commission also calls for the creation of a dedicated “last resort” reserve of EU-funded assets—rescEU—to fill any gaps in the response capacities provided by Member States.25 These assets would be available for immediate deployment by the Commission and (unlike assets provided by Member States) the Commission would have operational control.

2.4As well as strengthening the capacities available to the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, the Commission envisages a more proactive role for itself in overseeing the risk assessments and disaster risk management plans developed by Member States to ensure that effective prevention measures are in place across the EU and that rescEU is not used as a substitute for national disaster response capacities. It intends to establish a Civil Protection Knowledge Network to share best practice, foster cooperation and develop “a common Union disaster preparedness culture”.26 It also says it will seek to strengthen coherence with other EU policies and funding instruments and streamline administrative procedures so that assistance can be deployed more rapidly.

2.5The proposed Decision—document (b)—would make “targeted changes” to the EU Civil Protection Mechanism to fulfil the objectives set out in the Communication.

2.6The Minister for Government Resilience and Efficiency (Caroline Nokes) explains that the current EU Civil Protection Mechanism is funded up until the end of 2020 and that the Commission’s proposal has pre-empted negotiations (which were expected to begin this year) on a new legislative instrument to take effect from the beginning of 2021. She notes the absence of an Impact Assessment which makes it “difficult to assess the validity of some of the Commission’s assertions” and considers that the Commission has “not provided evidence to support the current set of proposals”. Whilst she welcomes the Commission’s focus on enhancing prevention and preparedness-planning and supporting Member States in building their disaster response capabilities, she says there is “no evidence […] to support the conclusion that the Commission’s ownership of assets would significantly reduce deaths, damage and economic losses from natural disasters”.27

2.7The Minister highlights civil protection as “an important area for future cooperation between the UK and the EU” post-exit. She says that the outcome of negotiations on the changes proposed by the Commission will affect the structures within which that cooperation will take place.

2.8The Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum raises questions about the EU’s competence to act under Article 196 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) on civil protection, the need for and “added value” of a dedicated reserve of EU-acquired and funded disaster response capacities (rescEU), and the broader policy implications of the changes envisaged to the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

Competence to act

2.9The Minister says that the EU’s role under Article 196 TFEU is limited to “supporting, coordinating and complementing the actions of Member States” and that establishing rescEU would erode “the principle set out in the Lisbon Treaty that Member States are primarily responsible for ensuring the safety and security of their citizens”.28 We note that this principle is not set out in the Lisbon Treaty, although it may be implicit in some of its provisions, and that the ability to take measures “supporting and complementing” Member States action gives the EU legislator considerable discretion.29 With this in mind, we ask the Minister to clarify the Government’s position on the limits of the EU’s competence under Article 196 TFEU and to explain whether it gives sufficient powers to the EU to establish rescEU.

Subsidiarity—the setting up of rescEU

2.10The Minister says there is “no evidence” to support the Commission’s view that rescEU would “significantly reduce deaths, damage and economic losses” and that the Commission has failed to consider more cost-effective options.30 The Commission indicates that its analysis of the need for rescEU is based to a large extent on “operational experience”, citing in particular the inability of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism to provide assistance to fight forest fires on seven out of a total of 17 occasions in 2017.

2.11Whilst we share the Minister’s concern that the Commission has failed to produce an Impact Assessment, we question whether it is fair to conclude that there is “no evidence” that the creation of rescEU would make some contribution to reducing loss of life and environmental and economic damage, even if the scale of the contribution may be open to question.31 We ask the Minister:

2.12The Minister expresses concern that rescEU would “undermine national response capacity by substituting efforts which national and local authorities should take as part of their prevention strategy with a centralised response capacity owned by the Commission”.32 This contrasts with the Commission’s position that rescEU “will not be a substitute for efforts at national, regional and local level” and that it should only operate as “a last resort capacity” in response to disasters “that are exceptional in scope or nature” and at times when “national capacities are insufficient or overwhelmed”.33 Other changes proposed by the Commission (which the Minister supports) would appear to reinforce its position that rescEU should not reduce capacity at national level—for example, greater oversight and monitoring of risk assessments and disaster risk management planning at national and sub-national level, more incentives for Member States to contribute assets to the voluntary European Civil Protection Pool, and the introduction of an element of conditionality in future EU funding for disaster prevention measures at national level. We ask the Minister whether her concerns could be allayed by amendments to the text of the proposed Decision which, for example, make clear that rescEU is intended to be a “last resort capacity” or give the Council rather than the Commission the power to decide on the future composition of rescEU.

The European Civil Protection Pool

2.13The Minister implies that there would be some loss of Member State control over assets made available to the European Civil Protection Pool as they would “need to consult the Commission before withdrawing the asset for national use”. The changes proposed by the Commission do not alter the existing requirement that these assets “remain available for national purposes at all times” and, once deployed, “remain under the command and control of the Member States making them available”.34 The requirement to consult the Commission arises only when a Member State intends to withdraw assets after their deployment, during the lifetime of an operation. This does not seem unreasonable, given the Commission’s coordinating role, provided it has no power to resist the withdrawal of assets. We ask the Minister to confirm whether this is the case and whether she is able to support these changes.

2.14We ask the Minister to explain how changes to the co-financing rules for assets made available by Member States for ad hoc operations in the future, but which do not form part of the European Civil Protection Pool, are likely to affect the UK. How much funding for its own disaster response capacities might the UK stand to lose?

Brexit implications

2.15The EU Civil Protection Mechanism is open to participation by non-EU members of the European Economic Area “and other European countries when agreements and procedures so provide” but, on current terms, the UK would have limited access to financial assistance after withdrawal from the EU.35 The Minister highlights civil protection as “an important area for future cooperation between the UK and the EU” post-exit. We understand that six non-EU countries currently participate in the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.36 We would welcome some general indication of the terms on which they are able to participate and the extent to which they provide a suitable model for the UK.

2.16As well as providing the information we have requested, we ask the Minister to provide progress reports on the negotiations and to indicate how rapidly she expects the proposed Decision to proceed through the Council and the European Parliament. We are content to clear the Communication from scrutiny but retain the proposed Decision under scrutiny. We also draw this chapter to the attention of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

Full details of the documents

(a) Commission Communication: Strengthening EU Disaster Management: (39266), 14883/17, COM(17) 773; b) Proposed Decision amending Decision No 1313/2013/EU on a Union Civil Protection Mechanism: (39265), 14884/17, COM(17) 772.

Background

2.17The Reports listed at the end of this chapter describe the substantial changes proposed by the Commission to the EU Civil Protection Mechanism in 2012. The revised Mechanism took effect in January 2014.37

The Commission Communication—document (a)

2.18The Commission provides a brief overview of extreme weather events in Europe and beyond in recent years and the devastating human and economic impact. In 2017 alone, over 100 lives were lost to forest fires in Portugal and one million hectares of forest (an area four times the size of Luxembourg) destroyed. Forest fires are no longer confined to southern Member States but are spreading northwards. Other recent high impact events include earthquakes (in Italy and Greece) and hurricanes and flash flooding (affecting large parts of north-west Europe and European overseas territories in the Caribbean). Member States have also had to respond to a spate of terrorist attacks, health emergencies and epidemics (the Ebola and Zika viruses) and the humanitarian consequences of the refugee and migration crisis.

2.19The Commission considers that the EU Civil Protection Mechanism has not always been able to “deliver the expected results” for a variety of reasons:

2.20The lack of sufficient and appropriate response capacities meant that the EU was only able to respond to 10 of the 17 requests for assistance to tackle forest fires in 2017. The Commission concludes that “we have now clearly reached the limits of the Union’s Civil Protection Mechanism, as it is structured and functions today” and that a further “leap forward” is necessary. It calls for additional capacity and “a functioning solidarity mechanism” with “a sufficiently robust incentive structure” to encourage sharing of disaster response assets across borders. The Commission also underlines the need for “a fully integrated approach to prevention, preparedness and response to disasters” across the EU and for the synergies between different EU funding instruments to be exploited to greater effect.39 Relevant instruments include the European Structural and Investment Funds, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the EU Solidarity Fund.

The proposed Decision—document (b)

2.21The proposed Decision would make targeted changes to the EU Civil Protection Mechanism which are intended to:

Enhancing disaster response capacity

2.22The Commission proposes a dual system based on “two complementary pillars”:

2.23The first pillar—the European Civil Protection Pool—would operate in a similar way to the existing voluntary pool, but with additional incentives to encourage Member States to make assets available to the Pool. They would be able to recover a higher proportion (75%) of the costs incurred in deploying assets through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, including costs related to the adaptation and repair of equipment, transportation and operational costs. In return, these assets would have to be deployed in response to a request for assistance channelled through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism except where the Member State providing them is faced with “an exceptional situation substantially affecting the discharge of national tasks”.42 Throughout the disaster response operation, assets provided by Member States would remain under their command and control. To encourage a more predictable supply, the EU would only subsidise (co-finance) assets that are part of the European Civil Protection Pool, not those which are outside the Pool and made available on an ad hoc basis. The Commission describes these changes as “a significant shift compared to the situation today”.43

2.24The second pillar—rescEU—would consist of a range of assets purchased, rented or leased by the EU which could be immediately deployed by the Commission in response to a request for assistance and would remain under its command and control. The assets envisaged in the proposed Decision would endow the Commission with an autonomous capacity to respond to the most frequent emergencies—forest fires, floods, earthquakes and health emergencies.44 The Commission would be given delegated powers to increase the response capacities available to rescEU as gaps emerge. It envisages that rescEU would be made available for disasters “that are exceptional in scope or nature” and “when national capacities are insufficient or overwhelmed”, but makes clear that “it will not be a substitute for efforts at national, regional and local level: all levels need to strengthen preparedness in times of a changing risk landscape”.45

Prevention and disaster risk management

2.25The Commission considers that disaster prevention and the reduction of risks are “at the core” of disaster risk management efforts.46 The proposed Decision would give it powers to request and review risk assessments and monitor the implementation of disaster risk management plans developed by Member States. It would also be able to require Member States to provide specific prevention and preparedness plans and take into account the progress made in implementing them as part of any future (post-2020) conditionality mechanism included in the European Structural and Investment Funds.

2.26The proposal places greater emphasis on creating synergies with related EU policies and funding instruments supporting cohesion, rural development, research, health, migration and security (as well as humanitarian aid policies externally) which also have a role to play in preventing disasters and managing risks. It also seeks to consolidate existing efforts to develop training, disseminate information and share best practice through the creation of a Union Civil Protection Knowledge Network which would “help to build a common Union disaster preparedness culture”.47

2.27The changes proposed reinforce the Commission’s view that risk prevention (and adaptation where prevention is impossible) “must be a duty, not a choice to be made” and that a substantial strengthening of disaster risk management capacities is required.48

Simplified procedures

2.28The proposed Decision would simplify administrative procedures by clarifying the rules on co-financing and introducing a single rate (75%) for the adaptation, repair, transport and operational costs of assets made available to the European Civil Protection Pool. The proposal would underline the exceptional character of the Union Civil Protection Mechanism by specifying that requests for assistance would lapse after 90 days (and so do not entail an open-ended commitment of assets by Member States) unless there are new elements which would justify the provision of additional assistance.

Budget

2.29The EU Civil Protection Mechanism currently has a budget of €368.4 million for the period 2014–20. This would be increased to €631.6 million. The Commission says that this represents an additional €280 million for the period 2018–20 if administrative and personnel costs (estimated at €16.8 million) are included.49

Legal base and subsidiarity

2.30The proposal is based on Article 196 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) which empowers the EU to:

Article 196 TFEU is a “supporting” competence and excludes any harmonisation of national laws.

2.31The Commission considers that further action at EU level is necessary because operational experience has demonstrated that “major disasters can overwhelm the response capacities of any Member State acting alone” or “paralyse mutual assistance amongst them” when dealing with simultaneous disasters. It says that the proposal would bring “clear added value” through a reduction in lives lost and in environmental, economic and material damage.50

2.32The Commission has not prepared an Impact Assessment, citing the need for urgent action to fill gaps in critical disaster response capacities.

The Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum of 11 December 2017

2.33The Minister recognises the value of the current EU Civil Protection Mechanism in establishing a centralised framework (the Emergency Response Coordination Centre) for receiving and circulating requests for emergency assistance and coordinating an EU-wide response. The EU Civil Protection Mechanism also “provides influence, operational and financial benefits in terms of allowing the UK to act more quickly in some overseas emergencies”, as well as a source of funding for research, training, exercises and other forms of cross-border cooperation, and is the principal means for developing the “resilience” of European partners.51

2.34The Minister explains that the UK has not received assistance from the Civil Protection Mechanism but would be able to do so “should our own response capacities ever be overwhelmed”.52 She adds that the UK is “one of the biggest contributors to the Civil Protection Mechanism in terms of delivery of crisis expertise and humanitarian aid” and has played “a major role in the development of a successful and effective response mechanism”.53

2.35The Minister notes the Commission’s view that urgent changes are needed to the EU Civil Protection Mechanism which are intended to take effect “as early as possible in 2018”.54 This is because “some requests for specific capabilities are not met in all emergencies” and the Commission considers that there are “gaps in critical capacities at the European level”. She accepts that simplification of processes and incentives to enhance preparedness activities at national level may “add value”, but considers that “the Commission has not provided evidence to support the current set of proposals”.55 She highlights the absence of an Impact Assessment accompanying the proposed changes which makes it “difficult to assess the validity of some of the Commission’s assertions” and adds:

“No evidence has been provided to support the conclusion that the Commission’s ownership of assets would significantly reduce deaths, damage and economic losses from natural disasters, or whether other proposals (such as regional cooperation on response assets, or greater investment in prevention or preparedness) would achieve the same ends while representing significantly better value for money.”56

2.36The Minister makes clear that “Member States are responsible for ensuring the safety and security of their citizens” and that, under the EU Treaties:

“The role of the Union is limited to supporting, coordinating and complementing the actions of Member States in preventing or protecting against natural or man-made disasters where there is a demonstrable need that cannot be effectively met in other ways.”57

2.37Turning to the substance of the changes proposed, the Minister highlights the creation of a Commission-led response capability—rescEU—as the most significant. She considers that there is insufficient evidence to support a change of this magnitude and “is not persuaded by the argument that the proposal will enhance the collective response of Member States”. She continues:

“Rather, the proposals appear to undermine national response capacity by substituting efforts which national and local authorities should take as part of their prevention strategy with a centralised response capacity owned by the Commission. It is not clear how the Commission could mitigate the erosion of the principle set out in the Lisbon Treaty, that Member States are primarily responsible for ensuring the safety and security of their citizens. Recent reports by the Court of Auditors and Interim Evaluation of the Civil Protection Mechanism do not in our view support the conclusion that the significant changes proposed, including acquisition of very expensive assets by the Commission, are necessary.”58

2.38The Minister notes that the existing voluntary pool of response capacities provided by Member States would become the European Civil Protection Pool and that “co-financing of assets not in the voluntary pool will cease”, thereby removing “all incentives for deployment of assets which are not in the voluntary pool” as there would be no reimbursement of costs incurred. This is likely to affect the UK as it “does not currently maintain assets in the voluntary pool” but does benefit from co-financing of transport assistance provided through the Civil Protection Mechanism.59

2.39Under the Commission’s changes, where assets are made available to the European Civil Protection Pool, the Minister indicates that Member States would “need to consult the Commission before withdrawing the asset for national use”. The Minister makes clear that national authorities should maintain “full control and authorisation of their own assets”.60

2.40The Minister supports the changes proposed by the Commission to strengthen disaster prevention and preparedness, noting that the UK shared its 2015 UK National Risk Assessment with the Commission. She also supports proposals to:

2.41The Minister welcomes the Commission’s proposal to consider using other EU funding instruments to support disaster risk reduction and response activities and underlines the importance of “increasing resilience of specific communities”. She makes clear that the Government “would not welcome proposals that may request additional funds outside the existing processes to fund new response assets such as fire-fighting aircraft”.63

2.42The Minister considers that the budgetary implications of the changes proposed by the Commission are “substantial” and adds:

“Where the proposed legislative innovations can be supported on policy grounds, then their implementation should be feasible within the constraints imposed by a real-terms payments freeze in the civil protection budget.

“The Government would in any event seek to ensure that final agreement on an amended Civil Protection Mechanism would fall within the constraints imposed by the agreement on the existing Multi-Annual Financial Framework, and that any funding should be identified by reallocation from lower value programmes rather than taken from margins.”64

2.43The Minister indicates that funding for the EU Civil Protection Mechanism will cease at the end of 2020 and that the Commission’s proposal has “pre-empted” negotiations on a new legislative instrument for the period after 2020 which were expected to begin in 2018. She highlights civil protection as “an important area for future cooperation between the UK and the EU” post-exit, highlighting the following passages from two of the Government’s future partnership papers published in September 2017. The first, on Foreign Policy, Defence and Development, states:

“Responding to crises rapidly and effectively is crucial to the UK’s security and prosperity. The UK and EU partners collaborate on disaster response, preparedness and prevention via the EU Civil Protection Mechanism which allows Member States to pool their resources and share technical expertise. The UK has a world class reputation in disaster management and, working with other Member States, helps other nations rapidly build their maturity. The UK also contributes specialist teams to an EU pool of experts that can be deployed to respond to disasters anywhere in the world.”65

The second, on Security, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, states:

“There are clear benefits for both the UK and the EU in coordinating efforts to protect citizens by making best use of resources and ensuring that complementary action is taken in areas with common objectives, such as… civil protection.”66

2.44The Minister adds:

“The structure for the UK’s future cooperation with the EU on civil protection will be influenced by the outcome of the current legislative proposals, given the significant changes which may be made to the Civil Protection Mechanism.”67

Previous Committee Reports

None on these documents. Earlier Reports on the last set of changes to the EU Civil Protection Mechanism are relevant: Fifty-seventh Report HC 428–lii (2010–12), chapter 6 (29 February 2012), Fourth Report HC 86–iv (2012–13), chapter 6 (14 June 2012), Thirty-first Report HC 86–xxxi (2012–13), chapter 1 (6 February 2013), Thirty-third Report HC 86–xxxiii (2012–13), chapter 6 (27 February 2013) and Thirteenth Report HC 83–xiii (2013–14), chapter 27 (4 September 2013).


25 See p.5 of the Commission Communication.

26 See p.6 of the Commission Communication.

27 See paras 16 and 19 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

28 See paras 14 and 22 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

29 See also Article 6 TFEU which sets out the policy areas in which the EU has competence to “support, coordinate or supplement the actions of the Member States” and which includes civil protection.

30 See para 16 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

31 The Commission does not claim that rescEU would result in a “significant” reduction, but would bring “clear added value” and “benefits in terms of reducing the loss of human life, environmental, economic and material damage”—see p.3 of the Commission’s explanatory memorandum accompanying the proposed Decision.

32 See para 22 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

33 See pp.5 and 10 of the Communication.

34 See Article 11(6) of Decision No 1313/2013/EU on a Union Civil Protection Mechanism and the amended Article 11(8) in the proposal.

35 See Article 28 of Decision No 1313/2013/EU on a Union Civil Protection Mechanism.

36 The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Iceland, Montenegro, Norway, Serbia and Turkey.

37 See Decision No 1313/2013/EU on a Union Civil Protection Mechanism.

38 See pp.2–3 of the Communication.

39 See pp.3–4 of the Communication.

40 See p.2 of the Commission’s explanatory memorandum accompanying the proposed Decision.

41 See p.5 of the Communication.

42 See the amended Article 11(7) and (8).

43 See p.5 of the Communication.

44 The amended Article 12 establishing rescEU says that it will consist of aerial forest fire-fighting equipment, high capacity pumping equipment, urban search and rescue capacities and field hospital and emergency medical teams.

45 See pp.5 and 10 of the Communication.

46 See p.5 of the Communication.

47 See p.6 of the Communication.

48 See p.10 of the Communication.

49 See p.6 of the Commission’s explanatory memorandum accompanying the proposed Decision.

50 See p.3 of the Commission’s explanatory memorandum accompanying the proposed Decision.

51 See para 1 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

52 See para 1 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

53 See para 24 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

54 See para 2 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

55 See paras 15 and 35 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

56 See paras 16 and 19 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

57 See para 14 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

58 See para 22 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

59 See paras 23–4 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

60 Ibid.

61 See para 26 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

62 See para 27 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

63 See para 28 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

64 See paras 33–4 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

65 See para 34 of the future partnership paper, Foreign Policy, Defence and Development.

66 See para 6 of the future partnership paper, Security, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice.

67 See para 30 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.




29 January 2018