Will Haiti tragedy boost the development of the European Union’s instruments in the field of civil protection?

In an article published in Le Soir on 16 January Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian Prime Minster and current President of the Liberal Group of the European Parliament criticizes the weak role of the European Union and the standing leading role played by the Member States which demonstrate the absence of a real European approach.

Nevertheless, Verhofstdat observes that a coordinated action would make the difference and would multiply aid’s impact, especially in the event of crisis. Furthermore, such a coordination would be the only compatible answer with the new institutional and legal framework introduced with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty.

Indeed, the Treaty finally clarifies areas kept deliberately blurred for a very long time.

In the Lisbon Treaty the notion of solidarity between Member States and with third countries appears for the first time. Namely, article 3 of the TEU and, more importantly, Article 21 of the TUE on the basis of which:

1. The Union’s action on the international scene shall be guided by the principles which have inspired its own creation, development and enlargement, and which it seeks to advance in the wider world: democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for human dignity, the principles of equality and solidarity, and respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter and international law.

The Union shall seek to develop relations and build partnerships with third countries, and international, regional or global organisations which share the principles referred to in the first subparagraph. It shall promote multilateral solutions to common problems, in particular in the framework of the United Nations.

2. The Union shall define and pursue common policies and actions, and shall work for a high degree of cooperation in all fields of international relations, in order to:

(a) safeguard its values, fundamental interests, security, independence and integrity;

(b) consolidate and support democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the principles of international law;

(c) preserve peace, prevent conflicts and strengthen international security, in accordance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter, with the principles of the Helsinki Final Act and with the aims of the Charter of Paris, including those relating to external borders;

(d) foster the sustainable economic, social and environmental development of developing countries, with the primary aim of eradicating poverty;

(e) encourage the integration of all countries into the world economy, including through the progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade;

(f) help develop international measures to preserve and improve the quality of the environment and the sustainable management of global natural resources, in order to ensure sustainable development;

(g) assist populations, countries and regions confronting natural or man-made disasters (…)

Although several types of solidarity exist, going from humanitarian aid to civil protection, before the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon these interventions had an unclear legal basis. On the one hand, despite the fact that humanitarian aid refers to any country in the world, it was limited to cooperation with developing countries (ex art 179 TEC now 209 TFEU). On the other hand, civil protection interventions were foreseen only within the European Union territory, raising several concerns in relation to which kind of interventions the EU could have carried on to tackle emergencies, such as that of  Tsunami in 2004.

This uncertainty has now been overcome. Indeed, article 196 of the TFEU foresees the possibility for the European Union to

“(…)promote swift, effective operational cooperation within the Union between national civil-protection services (…)”.

In addition, the new Treaty validates the possibility to deploy civil protection mechanisms also in case of natural as well as human disasters, such as terrorist attacks. As a result, the use of police forces, highly developed technologies and military forces not only becomes desirable but also compulsory.

Verofstadt correctly reminds that some Member States blocked in the past the possibility to create a flying squad unite (EU-FAST) precisely to avoid the use of military technology both for logistic and operational activities (as in the aftermath of the Tsunami and Haiti’s earthquake  where hospital ships and aircraft carriers have been used).

However, with the Treaty of Lisbon  civil and military support becomes part of the civil protection as foreseen by the Stockholm Programme (*) as well as an essential element for the implementation of the solidarity clause foreseen in article 222 of the TFEU (which  alligns the cooperation between the Member States’ and the Institutions with the clause foreseen in article 5 of the Nato Treaty).

On the basis of what has been just said, it should not come as a surprise if  in 2008 with the signing of the Treaty and before its entry into force, the EU Institutions and the Member States adopted a long joint statement defining their  roles in case of intervention in third countries and foreseeing the use of military forces.

To sum up, it is now possible and necessary to update the current European Union’s Civil Protection Mechanism and the  Monitoring Information Center  on the basis of the new Treaty by giving the possibility to deploy military means for civil purposes and re-launch the debate on the currently blocked proposal to create a sort of coordinating mechanism to tackle emergency situations for critical infrastructures (energy networks, transports, healthcare…).

This is a crucial challenge for the High Representative and the Institutions which can now decide by qualified majority and in codecision with the European Parliament.

Although it seems that Member States are opened to such an option (at least on the basis of a recent report dated November 2009 on EU capacity to prevent and respond to disasters), it should be reminded that several Member States do not support developments in this field. Indeed,  no debate has been carried on in relation to the creation of a real European consular and diplomatic protection for European citizens in third countries which has already examined in this blog.

Hence, although hopes should be kept low  it is now evident that a swift decision in this domain has become a necessity.


(*)4.6   Comprehensive and effective EU Disaster Management: reinforcing the EU’s capacities to prevent, prepare for and respond to all kinds of disasters

Natural and man-made disasters such as forest fires, earthquakes, floods and storms, as well as terrorist attacks, increasingly affect the safety and security of citizens and call for the further development of EU action in disaster management.

EU disaster management should be based on an integrated approach, covering the whole disaster cycle encompassing prevention, preparedness, response and recovery for actions both inside and outside the Union.

EU disaster management is built on two main principles: the responsibility of Member States for providing their citizens with the necessary protection in view of the existing risks and threats, and solidarity amongst the Member States to assist each other both before, during and after disasters, if catastrophes overwhelm national capacities or affect more than one Member State. The European Council considers that future EU action should be guided by the objectives of reducing vulnerability to disasters by developing a strategic approach to disaster prevention and by further improving preparedness and response while recognising national responsibility. Guidelines for hazard and risk- mapping methods, assessments and analyses should be developed as well as an overview of the natural and man-made risks that the EU may face in the future. Continued efforts are necessary to strengthen the Union Civil Protection Mechanism and to improve the civil protection instruments, including the availability, interoperability and use of and support for the coordination of assistance also outside the EU territory on occasions of serious emergencies involving EU citizens abroad. The Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) should be reinforced in order to improve the coordination of Member States’ assistance, provide mapping and analytical support to the Member States for the further identification and registration of national and multinational civil protection modules and develop training and exercises in order to contribute to an efficient EU disaster response.


Reducing vulnerability to attacks is one of the major objectives pursued with EU action concerning the protection of EU Critical Infrastructure. The Directive on Critical Infrastructure, when implemented, should be analysed and reviewed in due course in order to consider the possible inclusion of additional policy sectors.

The CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) risk, and in particular the threat of terrorist groups using CBRN materials, has led to action at national and EU levels. The overall goal of the policy on CBRN security is to present a prioritised, relevant and effective European strategy to enhance the protection of EU citizens from incidents involving CBRN materials. In order to achieve this goal, the implementation of the EU CBRN Action Plan based on an all-hazards approach, including actions to prevent, detect, prepare and respond to larger incidents with high risk CBRN materials, is vital.

Increasingly research will be of importance to support all areas of disaster management. Possibilities for research within the seventh research Framework programme and within the following framework programmes need to be analysed and appropriate proposals should be made to support that goal.

Close cooperation with international organisations, in particular the United Nations, which has an overall co-ordinating role in international humanitarian response should continue to be a priority for interventions in third countries, both on the ground and in terms of preparedness (training, joint exercises). In accordance with the 2007 European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid a strong EU coordination and role will enhance the overall international humanitarian response, including concerted efforts to improve the humanitarian system, and would also reinforce the EU ambition of working closely with other humanitarian actors. The safety and security of the EU requires continuous dialogue and cooperation with third countries, and in particular neighbouring countries and countries with a Member State perspective. The Union’s increasing initiatives for strengthening regional cooperation, e.g. for the Mediterranean, the Baltic Sea area and the Black Sea, as well as the Eastern partnership, are designed to contribute to this.

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