Thursday

22nd Oct 2020

EU aid chief calls for new crisis room, list of assets

  • Ms Georgieva (c) in her blue EU jacket surveys damage in Hungary following a toxic leak (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

When future floods or earthquakes strike, the EU is to have a 24-hour-a-day Brussels-based crisis room and a list of helicopters, water-pumps, experts and other assets pledged by EU countries to send into the field under a new plan proposed by the European Commission.

Aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva unveiling the proposal at a press briefing in Brussels on Tuesday (26 October) said: "When I receive the call [for assistance] and I transmit it to member states, I don't know who is going to come with what to help. We want to eliminate this and move to something where member-states have pre-committed assets, equipment and personnel, and we know what they are."

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The new crisis room, to be called the European Emergency Response Centre, is to pull together EU officials from Ms Georgieva's existing aid units "to watch, alert and respond" and to co-ordinate EU countries' contributions.

EU capitals are to contribute equipment and manpower on a voluntary basis. The assets are to stay in place in EU countries until called for, to be commanded by member states when deployed and can be refused if needed at home.

The Bulgarian commissioner indicated that some of the assets could be of a military nature. "Sometimes it is necessary to deploy military assets because they are appropriate and they would do the job of saving people and restoring the functioning of communities. Let's go back to Haiti, where the military was essential to both provide security and help restore the functioning of airports and ports," she said, referring to the Haiti earthquake in February.

Part of the new initiative will be devoted to boosting EU visibility on the premise that ordinary people whose tax-euros pay for disaster response need to see where their money is going.

"There are cases when showing a flag, be it a German flag or an EU or US flag puts people's lives at risk. But there are many cases when it does not," Ms Georgieva said on the tendency of EU-funded charities to promote their own brand at the expense of the Union. "I can see they just put the sticker with the European flag before my arrival and the glue is still dry," she recalled from her visits to disaster zones such as Pakistan, on attempts by some aid agencies to pull the wool over her eyes.

Details of the new crisis measures, including on funding, are to be worked out after the European Parliament and EU capitals give the green light to the scheme.

The commission in a parallel development will also look at changing rules on the European Solidarity Fund - a €1 billion a year pot which can be paid out to EU countries if they suffer a "major" disaster, but not in the form of immediate assistance as with commission aid funds for non-EU countries.

"Our citizens don't understand why we can do this for Moldova but not for Romania, why we have it for non-member-states but not for member states," Ms Georgieva said on recent EU flood relief payments.

The Georgieva crisis room scheme marks the revival of a similar plan put forward by Michel Barnier in 2006. Currently the French commissioner in charge of the single market, Mr Barnier four years ago called for the creation of an €100 million a year Civil Protection Force. The Barnier proposal also suggested setting up EU-level consulates in the Caribbean, the Balkans, the Indian Ocean and West Africa with "flying" EU officials coming to the aid of EU citizens in trouble to help get them home.

Ms Georgieva's idea comes at the same time as plans by EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton to set up a new situation room in the European External Action Service (EEAS). Ms Ashton currently relies on three separate bureaus - the Joint Situation Centre, the Crisis Room and the Watch Keeping Facility - situated within a few blocks of each other in Brussels.

The aid commissioner said her new office would deal with both man-made and natural crises but leave the big politics of EU intervention to her colleague.

"Who is going to be there for Europe, to stand for Europe?" she said on the question of who is to be the EU's crisis response figurehead. "I actually sure hope it would be me when we talk about civil protection and humanitarian aid, and it would be Cathy Ashton when we have also foreign affairs issues and security issues."

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