Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


Letter from Rt Hon Geoff Hoon MP, Minister for Europe, Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the Chairman

  Following a request from the Committee's Clerk, please find enclosed for your information the "General Framework for the use of ESDP Transportation Assets and Coordination tools in Support of EU Disaster Response" (not printed). The European Council approved this in May. The document proposes a framework through which the Member, States' military transportation assets and military chartered assets can be used and co-ordinated in support of EU disaster response.

  During the UK Presidency of the EU, the informal meeting at Hampton Court considered how the EU could better coordinate its disaster response efforts and requested that the Secretary General/High Representative, Javier Solana, take forward work to ensure that EU crisis management structures could meet new demands upon them. In his response Solana highlighted the need for "the maximum possible civilian/military integration" and suggested the need for "arrangements for transport coordination of the relief effort.. [which] should cover military assets made available by Member States". The Framework builds upon his proposals and experience of the relief efforts following the Algerian floods.

  The use of military transportation assets where appropriate will improve the EU's capacity to respond to disasters while the identification and coordination of these assets by the EU Movement Planning Cell should ensure a more effective response. The UK has been a strong supporter of such practical improvement to the EU's crisis response procedures following the Tsunami of 2004. The paper also recognises the need for wider international cooperation and the pre-eminent role of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in overseeing this although it does not go into detail.

  The paper importantly respects two key principles from the UK point of view. Firstly, that all national military assets are provided on a voluntary case by case basis, recognising that "prior operational tasking of the assets and political/financial imperatives" may inform decisions. Secondly, existing institutions are proposed to coordinate the transport assets, avoiding the need to create new unnecessary structures.

  The Council General Secretariat and Commission, directed by the Member States, will now work up detailed procedures to reflect this framework. This work is likely to take until the end of 2006 and will require unanimous Member State approval before the procedures are implemented.

28 June 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Rt Hon Geoff Hoon MP

  Thank you for your letter dated 28 June 2006 which Sub-Committee C considered at its meeting on 13 July.

  We welcome the High Representative's proposals for the use of strategic airlift for disaster relief on a voluntary basis by Member States. However, we consider that the procedures and mechanisms are potentially too slow to cope in a crisis situation. What is your view on the likely effectives of these procedures and are there any plans in place to carry out a test exercise?

14 July 2006

Letter from Rt Hon Geoff Hoon MP to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 14 July 2006 regarding the discussion by Sub-Committee C of the "General Framework for the use of ESDP Transportation Assets and Coordination in Support of EU Disaster Response" on 13 July.

  You commented that the procedures and mechanisms outlined in the framework are potentially too slow to cope in a crisis situation. The EU places the highest importance on being able to respond rapidly to a crisis and is developing further the means to allow it to do so.

  In the case of a response to a natural disaster, we expect that in most cases the initial response will be direct bilateral aid offered by individual Member States and which therefore would not require use of the procedures outlined in the document. The Community's "ECHO" Directorate General would manage the immediate humanitarian aid effort, in liaison with relevant UN agencies and international organisations, and would be able to deploy assessment teams from their network of offices around the world.

  We see the use of military assets, including military transportation assets, as generally a last resort when civilian alternatives are not available and once an assessment of requirements has taken place. The proposed framework for co-ordinating military transport assets in support of civilian-led disaster response builds on the procedures already in place to improve the co-ordination of strategic transportation assets for other ESDP operations and we are confident that it will facilitate a more rapid EU response.

  You also asked whether there were any plans to carry out a test exercise. The Finns have stated that under their presidency of the EU they intend to hold an exercise to test the EU's Crisis Coordination Arrangements. While the plans for this exercise are still under development it should offer the EU an opportunity to trial its disaster response arrangements.

25 July 2006

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