Thursday

3rd Dec 2020

Commissioner envisages robust EU crisis centre

  • Ms Georgieva speaking to UN-hatted soldiers from Sri Lanka in Haiti earlier his year (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

EU aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva is keen to set up a 24-hour-a-day disaster-monitoring centre with access to classified information on EU foreign policy and the authority to call in military assets from EU countries where necessary.

"When I wake up in the morning and open my eyes, the first thing I do is go to the message of the day on my iPad. They keep them short. They use a standard distribution list - all the member states get it, the relevant EU institutions, the Crisis Room. It's very tightly written - events, bullet points. All the information comes from member states or countries beyond the EU. If it's from an outside source, like the UN or Reliefweb, they give the sources," she told EUobserver in a recent interview.

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Ms Georgieva was speaking after her proposal last week to set up a new European Emergency Response Centre in Brussels to better cope with natural and man-made disasters around the world.

Her message of the day is currently written by the duty officer in the commission's Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC), quite likely on his or her laptop at home. The MIC itself is situated in the Avenue de Beaulieu in Brussels, about five kilometres away from Ms Georgieva's office in the main commission building.

The new centre is to have a team of duty officers at their desk round the clock and to move next door to Ms Georgieva, possibly in the Crisis Room in the Charlemagne building, once the current Crisis Room officers join the European External Action Service (EEAS) in the Axa building down the road.

"I like being with my troops," the commissioner said.

Unlike the Crisis Room and the EU's Joint Situation Centre (SitCen), which sniff out early signs of conflicts or terrorist attacks, the aid centre's main job will be to create protocols on how to respond to various kinds of disasters, such as earthquakes or bursting dams, and to model how they are likely to unfold once they strike.

Ms Georgieva wants the centre to be staffed by EU officials and seconded civil protection experts from EU countries on the model of SitCen and to work closely with the EEAS.

"I have been in the Crisis Room and I know how they operate - they have people scanning the newswires, the internet, twitter. Obviously we are not interested in duplicating what is being done somewhere else, so long as we can plug this [new centre] into a well-functioning system," she said. "In order to do this, we will need to have the same level of security clearance, otherwise there will be firewalls between their information and ours ... I see objectively the need to lift our security levels to match theirs."

Ms Georgieva noted how civil protection and conflict prevention units work in some EU countries as a potential model for the EU set-up.

"In some member states, the civil protection team have their own crisis room. They monitor the information that is necessary for deployment of their teams and their equipment. But if there is a higher level of emergency, where you deploy civil protection assets but you also deploy other assets, such as the military or intelligence, then the civil protection force plugs into this more comprehensive crisis management structure. They even have rooms where the seating [for each type of officer] is marked out, so if you are from the civil protection side, you know exactly where to sit."

The Bulgarian commissioner made it clear that she wants EU countries to put some military assets at her disposal as a last resort. Her office would call on the units to be deployed where necessary, but the EU capitals would retain operational command.

When asked by this website if the European Emergency Response Centre will need the services of men and women with guns, she answered: "Of course, yes."

Ms Georgieva noted that humanitarian organisations and the military are often mistrustful of each other and that badly-deployed troops can create rather than solve problems. "If you take a military truck and you paint it white because white trucks don't get attacked, well, what happens next is that white trucks do get attacked and humanitarian workers get killed," she said.

She added that, as in Haiti and Pakistan, military assets may be needed to provide relief and security, however.

"In Haiti, the US military, European military, Canadian, were deployed massively, appropriately, under UN co-ordination, primarily for logistics, clearing up rubble. But also some security, because here we had a situation where chaos could erupt," the commissioner said. "The military has to be included in our thinking on relief operations."

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