Europe in the World

Partnership with the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency

On the receiving end: strengthening European preparedness for cross-border disaster assistance

15 December 2010

Peter Zangl, European Commission Director General of DG ECHO, opened the panel discussion by outlining the two challenges that the EU is facing. Firstly, how can the EU respond to disasters when the frequency and scale of them are increasing? Secondly, with this in mind, how can this be achieved in light of financing restraints? The Commission proposal of the 26 October offered guidelines for meeting the challenges. In general he thought the EU was quite efficient when giving assistance, while admitting that it struggles when it comes to helping its own member countries.

Elise Baudot-Queguiner, Legal Counsel at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) highlighted the fact that the IFRC has first hand experience of disasters through its membership, both as a domestic actor and an international aid giver. The IDRL guidelines are based on their experience, studies and consultations. The IFRC’s conclusion is that international disaster responses are becoming increasingly complex as there is a multiplicity of actors.

She said there is a need to find a balance in the regulatory framework. Her assessment was that international assistance to disaster relief is slower, less efficient and of lower quality.

Ms Baudot-Queguiner said the IFRC study looks at how EU rules and national laws match up to the IDRL guidelines. The positive findings were that customs and immigration were on the whole satisfactory, that there are formal and informal cross border agreements in place, that the standardisation of requests and offers of assistance has been achieved and that there has been closer coordination in general.

Gaps include the lack of preparation to facilitate and regulate assistance from civil society actors, as well as a lack of preparation to receive assistance from outside the EU. Within the EU the IFRC found further problems with the recognition of foreign medical qualifications, the prioritisation of relief flights, the permission to use frequencies/bandwidths and the quality controls. On the legal side, they found a lack of clarity regarding the liability exposure of relief providers, responsibilities for costs, EU procurement procedures in “recurring emergencies”, and the impact of data protection regimes on the sharing of information in emergency settings.

David Fisher, Coordinator, International Disaster Response Laws, Rules and Principles Programme, IFRC said that a lack of planning had been identified in Germany, something which the authorities had not considered as a problem in the past. He also pointed to the incidence of disasters in Europe such the floods in Poland, mudslides in Hungary and the infamous Chernobyl disaster. He lamented the fact that every country, or even region, has a different disaster management law and different definitions of what a disaster is.

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