Documents considered by the Committee on 4 July 2018 Contents

2The EU Civil Protection Mechanism: strengthening EU disaster management

Committee’s assessment

Legally and politically important

Committee’s decision

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

Document details

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

Legal base

Article 196 TFEU, ordinary legislative procedure, QMV

Department

Cabinet Office

Document Number

(39265), 14884/17, COM(17) 772

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

2.1The EU Civil Protection Mechanism enables Member States to coordinate their response to natural and man-made disasters within and beyond the EU. It was overhauled in 2013 to strengthen the focus on disaster prevention and risk management and enhance the collective operational capacity of the EU and Member States to plan for and respond to disasters. The Emergency Response Coordination Centre is the operational hub of the Mechanism. It is supported by a voluntary pool of resources committed in advance by Member States to respond to emergencies (the European Emergency Response Capacity).

2.2The EU Civil Protection Mechanism is funded until the end of 2020. A new funding instrument will be needed to continue the Mechanism beyond 2020. The Commission considers that changes need to be made before then to increase the assets available to the Mechanism so that it can respond at times when Member States’ own capacities are stretched to their limits. The proposed amending Decision would make “targeted changes” to the EU Civil Protection Mechanism which are intended to address capacity gaps and ensure that the Mechanism is equipped to respond to a range of emergency situations. The Commission proposes a dual system based on “two complementary pillars”:

2.3Our earlier Reports listed at the end of this chapter provide a detailed overview of the changes proposed by the Commission. When we last considered the proposed Decision in April, we asked the Government for further information on the extent of the EU’s competence to act in the field of civil protection (the relevant powers are contained in Article 196 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union—TFEU), as well as the need for and “added value” of a dedicated reserve of EU response capacities (rescEU), and the broader policy and Brexit implications of the changes envisaged to the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. In his letter of 17 April 2018, the Minister for Implementation at the Cabinet Office (Oliver Dowden) told us that:

2.4The Minister indicated that many Member States had expressed similar views to the UK on rescEU and the European Civil Protection Pool.

2.5We questioned whether the distinction the Minister drew between the setting up of rescEU (which would, in his view, be in line with Article 196 TFEU) and giving the Commission the power to make decisions on the deployment of rescEU assets and exercise command and control over them (which would not) was sustainable. We suggested that if the EU had the power to establish its own autonomous disaster response capability, it would seem to follow that it must also be able to decide when and how to deploy it. We asked the Minister to explain how decisions on the deployment of rescEU assets should be taken and who should exercise command and control over them, given that the assets would not be the property of individual Member States. We also requested progress reports on negotiations within the Council and a summary of the Government’s position on the changes sought by the European Parliament.

2.6In his letter of 6 June 2018, the Minister reiterates the Government’s position that rescEU assets should be owned by the Member State hosting them and that the ultimate decision on their deployment should rest with that State, particularly if its personnel are involved. The European Parliament broadly supports the Commission’s proposal, but some MEPs question whether the Commission should own specific civil protection assets, such as field hospitals, and echo concerns voiced by the UK and other Member States about the impact of the proposal on state sovereignty.

2.7The Minister expects trilogue discussions to begin as soon as the Council agrees its negotiating mandate (officials have indicated that this could be in July). He says that the Government intends to work constructively with the Council Presidency and the Commission to agree “a mutually beneficial and efficient compromise” which is “proportionate, cost-effective and in line with the voluntary and Member State-led principles underpinning the EU Civil Protection Mechanism”. The Minister notes that the UK “is amongst several other Member States in arguing that Member States should maintain ownership and deployment of rescEU assets” and that financial incentives (such as EU co-financing of transport assistance) should continue to be available to Member States deploying assets through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, even if these assets have not been pre-committed to the European Civil Protection Pool.

Our Conclusions

2.8We are content with the Minister’s response, although it is not clear how the compromise being contemplated by the Presidency would make much difference, in practice, to the way in which the current EU Civil Protection Mechanism operates or succeed in filling existing capability gaps. We understand that the Presidency’s compromise text may be considered by Coreper later this month and, if agreed, provide the Council’s mandate for trilogue negotiations to begin with the European Parliament. We ask the Minister to report back on the outcome of deliberations within Coreper and to explain how any compromise text agreed differs from the Commission’s original proposal and addresses the Government’s key concerns. Meanwhile, the proposed Decision remains under scrutiny. We draw this chapter to the attention of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

Full details of the documents

Proposed Decision amending Decision No 1313/2013/EU on a Union Civil Protection Mechanism: (39265), 14884/17, COM(17) 772.

The Minister’s letter of 6 June 2018

Competence to act

2.9The Minister sets out the Government’s position on the limits of the EU’s competence under Article 196 TFEU:

“The Government’s view is that whilst the Commission’s intent to create rescEU is in line with Article 196 TFEU because it supports and complements the activities of Member States, decisions on deployment and command and control over assets by the Commission exceeds the limits of the Commission’s competence under Article 196 TFEU.”

2.10Responding to our concern that conferring a power on the EU to establish an autonomous disaster response capacity without also conferring a power to decide when and how to use it may not be sustainable, the Minister observes:

“The Commission’s proposal for rescEU states that the Commission will ‘acquire, rent, lease and/or otherwise contract capacities via Member States to be deployed’. The Commission will then maintain ownership of rescEU assets which would be hosted by Member States.

“The UK and other Member States do not support this proposal, and continue to work with the Presidency and the Commission on a pragmatic compromise, which ensures that the outcome is a new level of emergency asset at the European level, ensuring that countries with critical needs can access support during emergencies. The UK is one of a number of Member States that believes this can be achieved with a system in which rescEU assets are not only hosted by Member States but ownership of assets is maintained by those Member States hosting the asset. Assets may be acquired, rented or leased via joint procurement with the Commission with clear procurement rules, which set out Member States’ ownership. Similarly, in the case of deployment, whilst we support deployment decisions over rescEU assets being taken by the Commission in consultation with Member States, the Government is of the view that the ultimate decision should remain with the Member State hosting the rescEU asset, particularly where deployment of Member States’ personnel is involved.”

The European Parliament’s position

2.11The European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) has agreed its position and is “broadly supportive” of the Commission’s proposal:

“MEPs voted for a report which was supportive of the Commission’s substantive proposals (creation of rescEU; Commission-owned or operated assets; better linkage between prevention/preparedness and response activities), but suggested some amendments in the margins (linkage to the Erasmus programme to establish common training; references to climate change, the importance of risk reduction activity and risk-aware investment, and better communication of EU-funded activity).”

2.12The Minister adds that “a number of MEPs have expressed scepticism over the Commission’s proposal to own specific civil protection assets such as field hospitals and have shared concerns about the potential impact of the proposals on state sovereignty when dealing with natural disasters within their own borders—a concern echoed by the UK and other Member States”.

Progress of negotiations within the Council

2.13The Minister reports “steady progress” in the official-level Working Party on Civil Protection. A majority of Member States (including the UK) broadly supported a compromise text put forward by the Presidency in May but agreed that further work was needed. The compromise addresses the Government’s concerns “by ensuring proposals are proportionate, cost-effective and in line with the voluntary and Member State-led principles underpinning the Union Civil Protection Mechanism”. He adds:

“The UK is amongst several other States in arguing that Member States should maintain ownership and deployment of rescEU assets and financial incentives (i.e. transport co-financing for deployment of assets) are maintained for both assets pre-committed and not committed to the European Civil Protection Pool.”

Previous Committee Reports

Twenty-fifth Report HC 301–xxiv (2017–19), chapter 2 (25 April 2018) and Eleventh Report HC 301–xi (2017–19), chapter 2 (24 January 2018).





Published: 10 July 2018