The international role that European countries play in the provision of civil protection assistance is growing, with EU institutions and Member States working together to pool resources through the Union Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM). Given the fact that disasters know no-borders, the UCPM was established in 2001 to enable coordinated assistance from the participating states to victims of natural and man-made disasters both inside and outside the EU. Support can take the form of in-kind assistance, deployment of specially-equipped teams, or assessment and coordination by experts sent to the field.
In recent years, the multiplication of actors involved in international humanitarian responses poses both opportunities and challenges in terms of coordination and principled humanitarian action.
While increased coordination to avoid duplication though the UCPM is welcome, the different roles and mandates of humanitarian and civil protection actors must be respected, as must the principles and values expressed in the 2007 European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid. In addition, Civil Protection interventions outside the EU should be consistent with the Oslo Guidelines and the Guidelines on the Use of Military and Civil Defence Assets to Support UN Humanitarian Activities in Complex Emergencies (MCDA). They should focus on areas where they can provide the greatest added value by making highly specialised assets available.
When a major disaster strikes, swift delivery of aid to those affected is of the utmost importance. However, inefficiencies in regulations and norms can significantly hinder the impact of incoming assistance. It is thus critical that more emphasis is placed on legal preparedness for international assistance in countries both inside and outside the EU.
The Role of National Societies
By law, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are auxiliaries to their public authorities in the humanitarian field. They therefore play a key role in national disaster management planning and response mechanisms. Their civil protection role varies between countries, depending on the domestic context. National Societies undertake emergency management services and deliver a wide range of humanitarian activities at the national level. These include first aid, ambulance services, psychosocial support, distribution of essential food and non-food items, and search and rescue activities. National Red Cross Societies in the EU also strive to achieve a higher level of resilience amongst the population by improving preparedness, and preventing or reducing the effects of disasters.
Our members – National Red Cross Societies in the EU and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) – also deliver speedy assistance around the world, upon the request of the host National Society. Based on this extensive experience and expertise, our members cooperate with the European Commission Directorate General for Civil Protection and Humanitarian Operations (ECHO) to improve synergies and reduce duplications in emergency responses in third countries.
The Red Cross EU Office and Civil Protection
The Red Cross EU Office has closely monitored the evolution of the UCPM since its inception in 2001. We maintain continual dialogue with the EU Institutions on EU Civil Protection issues, particularly in relation to legislation, policy and operational activities. In addition, we promote our members’ work with the EU’s civil protection programme. Over the past few years, we have been supporting our members to enhance their operational cooperation with ECHO and its Emergency Response Coordination Centre by reinforcing communication, exchange of information and lessons learned.
Finally, we inform our members on Civil Protection-related funding opportunities such as training, exercises, prevention and preparedness calls for proposals, as well as relevant research calls for proposals under the Horizon 2020 programme, while facilitating the elaboration and submission of joint projects.