The future prospects for Euro-Mediterranean Co-operation in the field of Civil Protection

Štefan Füle – European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy

High Level Conference on future orientations of the Euro-Mediterranean Dialogue and Co-operation in the field of Civil Protection 

Brussels, 10-11-2012 — / — Dear Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen

It’s a great pleasure to be here today to talk about the future prospects for Euro-Mediterranean Co-operation in the field of Civil Protection.

As previous speakers have highlighted, the rising trend in the vulnerability of the Mediterranean to natural and man-made disasters confirms the need to put in place regional cooperation mechanisms to ensure the security and safety of citizens around the Mediterranean.

This morning, I would like to briefly expose our vision regarding the importance of regional cooperation in the Mediterranean in the context of our neighbourhood policy and then I will focus on the future prospects for our cooperation.

The European Union is committed to strengthen relations with the Southern Mediterranean countries. We do this essentially through tailor made bilateral relations, in the context of the European Neighbourhood Policy. This policy is about working together with our neighbouring states to increase the prosperity, stability and security of our citizens.

Over the last twelve months the European Union has responded with determination to a fast- changing situation of the Southern Mediterranean Region: it has adapted its policy instruments, re-oriented its assistance programmes, made technical support available to facilitate democratic transition and allocated additional funding.

In addition, we recognise that there are regional issues that require regional solutions. Not all issues can be solved at the bilateral level. This is why we have invested resources, time and energy to revitalise the regional cooperation structures, in particular the Union for the Mediterranean and its Secretariat. Under the able leadership of Mr Sijilmassi, the Secretariat is now focusing on implementing the first labelised projects.

In addition, with the co Presidencies having now been handed over to the European Union and Jordan, we are working on the resumption of sectoral ministerial meetings. We hope to have good meetings on Energy and Transport in 2013. More could be organised.

It is clear that Civil Protection is a very relevant area of work for the Union for the Mediterranean because of the potential for developing dialogue and cooperation on concrete issues which have a very high significance for populations on both sides of the Mediterranean Sea.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Natural and man-made disasters do not respect borders. They can affect local populations of many countries at the same time, and therefore need common responses. But beyond showing solidarity in the event of crisis, the European Union needs to cooperate with its neighbours in preventing and mitigating those events. I would even say that being prepared is only meaningful if it is implies being prepared together.

When disaster strikes, a core expectation of our citizens all around the world is that their governing institutions are ready and able to react by offering protection and assistance. They will also look to those institutions not only to address the consequences of disasters, but to work on minimizing risks and their possible effects. Such work is the daily bread and butter of many of the distinguished participants here today.

We are all here well aware of the fact that some disasters are of such a dimension that local and even national responses will be insufficient to tackle them. Outside support will be necessary.

We all know that civil protection is a priority for the Mediterranean region. In fact, the European Union has established a long lasting cooperation with the region. I’m happy to see that since our first pilot project in 1998, a lot has been achieved in the Southern Mediterranean to build confidence and reinforce a common understanding of the importance of collaborating in reducing risks and responding to disasters.

I am also pleased to note that since 2008 a number of on-going specific actions are bringing our Candidate Countries of the Mediterranean region closer to the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism. Let me quote as examples the current Instrument for Pre-accession funded projects that we are financing for flood prevention or building resilience to disasters. Such a specific assistance to our Candidates Countries will continue in the future in view of their ultimate goal to join the European Union.

And I am glad to see that even more has been achieved through the implementation of the PPRD South I programme which has been implemented both in the Southern Neighbourhood Region and in the Candidate Countries (Balkan countries and Turkey).

This programme has had very noticeable results of which you are all very familiar. Let me just stress two elements. Through its awareness raising activities the programme has trained around 154.000 children and housewives who are considered amongst the most vulnerable persons in society when disaster strikes. Children and their mothers have learned to adopt safer behaviours in their daily lives and react more adequately in case of disasters. This demonstrates that our activities can bring concrete benefits to citizens.

Another key result of the programme has been the creation of an effective network of national correspondents for Civil Protection in the region. More than demonstrating the active participation and strong political commitment of the Mediterranean Partner Countries, this network is to my mind the basis for moving forward and continuing solid regional cooperation in this area.

Now, what are key elements to think of for the future? How can we build on the achievements of the programme?

Firstly, the cooperation of national services in Civil Protection remains a fragile process. Reactions to disasters are often linked to national security and defence programmes, and there might be understandable reluctance to share sensitive information with others. This challenge is not easily overcome, but we need to continue to look for solutions.

Secondly, taking into account the gravity and time pressure of disaster situations, we need to pay even more attention to preparedness and synchronisation of efforts. There is scope to develop further cooperation mechanisms and tools that will allow swift reaction.

Thirdly, we need to foster more synergies between national and European Union Civil Protection initiatives in the Mediterranean, and gradually strengthen the relationship between the Mediterranean Partner Countries and the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

Finally, it will be essential to incorporate a stronger awareness of climate change implications in our work – climate change will imply more extreme weather events in the future, and these risks need to be better addressed also at the level of Civil Protection.

It is clear that there is real added value in continuing regional efforts in Civil Protection, and I am therefore glad to announce that we have decided to launch a new programme to pursue the work, building directly on the achievements of the PPRD South Programme. We are currently in the process of tendering for this new Programme, and we aim to start the activities next spring.

The new programme will have an even stronger focus on prevention and preparation rather than on response to disasters, and will address the issues I just raised:

The programme will reinforce co-operation between the EU and the Southern Neighbourhood partner institutions involved in civil protection;

It will encourage co-ordinated responses of countries affected by the same disaster; and

It will stimulate the development of a regional approach to disaster management based on prevention and preparedness, involving not only governments but also the civil society.

Even if the new programme will only address the ENP South Countries, Candidate Countries will certainly not be forgotten since specific regional programmes under the IPA Instrument will continue to apply to them. Coordination between the various programmes will be ensured.

What is our vision for the future?

Beyond our immediate programme, we need to develop a strategy for a safer Mediterranean in the long term. This is also why we are here today.

We all agree that regional cooperation in the field of Civil Protection needs to be continued and be built on the results reached so far. But we need to adapt our thinking to the on-going contextual changes such as the increasing impact of climate changes to disaster risks. So we have to establish joint cooperation between Climate Change and Civil Protection Experts.

In addition, we need to think how we can better address the needs of the region in terms of infrastructures in view of all the information gathered through our previous regional assistance programmes.

We also have to involve other actors like International Financing Institutions (EIB, EBRD, etc ) or the Secretariat of the UfM in an effort to seek new ways of support.

Finally, let me close these initial remarks by saying that I am glad to see that our EU project has been able to build an inclusive and successful cooperation among very different stakeholders. It is a model that I wish to see being developed more and more to demonstrate all the potential of concrete solidarity in the Mediterranean region.

With this, I thank you for your attention, and I hope that the rest of the day and the Steering Committee will be a good opportunity to discuss the future of Euro-med cooperation in the field of civil protection. It is only by joining forces that we will shape together a safer Mediterranean for our citizens.



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