Sunday

5th Feb 2023

Greek fires prompt plans for permanent EU emergency forces

The European Commission is considering new ways of how to boost EU emergency assistance to member states in crisis, prompted by the raging fires in Greece.

Brussels' plans come as several member states help Greece tackle forest fires which broke out last Friday (24 August) and have so far claimed at least 60 lives.

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"We have two major fires broken out in Glifada and Sofiko, which is in the area of Corinth and we have 9000 fire fighters fighting the fires and 4500 seasonal fire fighters and 1000 soldiers helping the fire fighters," said a commission spokeswoman.

Following Athens' call for help within the EU's mechanism for civil protection, nine countries have responded with concrete proposals which the commission said was "the biggest offer of assistance to a member state since the Mechanism was set up in 2001."

France, Italy and Spain provided seven fire-fighting Canadair planes, with another one set to arrive from Portugal on Monday (27 August), along with nine specialised helicopters offered by Germany, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Austria which are being dispatched.

France has also flown in fire-fighting brigades and Austria is getting some ready to be sent in the coming days.

A few non-EU countries, such as Israel and Russia, have also offered assistance bilaterally, according to press reports.

The EU executive's spokeswoman said several commission directorates are currently seeking ways to boost the bloc's ability to react in similar situations as it seems the existing system "may not be enough to react as quickly as one wishes to."

Brussels is contemplating setting up some sort of "standing intervention force" for different types of crises. The idea is to speed up joint actions so disasters can be tackled within hours of breaking out.

She added that the new concept could be unveiled as early as this autumn and it would be worked out according to several scenarios on how to best coordinate the emergency teams from different countries.

The envisaged "modules" - with eleven identified so far, one of them a forest-fighting module - would consist of "readily-deployable, pre-defined specialised clusters of personnel and equipment," according to the commission.

The spokeswoman stressed however "We're not talking about a European force based in Brussels, here in the European Commission, about ready to be launched when the crisis happens. We're not talking about that."

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