(Source: European Commission)
It is my pleasure to welcome you today in Brussels to the seventh European Civil Protection Forum.
It is four years now since the last Civil Protection Forum.
And I must say, it is great to see our civil protection community gathered in person again.
Let me start by expressing my deepest admiration and appreciation of your courage and dedication.
Working in the service of citizens in Europe and beyond could not be more concrete.
Therefore, you are also our best ambassadors of European solidarity and cooperation. I also thank you for that.
Since last forum took place, our community has been facing many challenges.
During my mandate alone, we moved from one unprecedented crisis to another.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to test our resilience.
Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and its people causes incredible human suffering.
Extreme weather events are increasing in frequency and intensity.
Europe’s and the world’s risk landscape is rapidly changing.
We are witnessing all types of disasters.
Floods, fires, heat waves, storms, earthquakes, landslides.
These events are affecting all our European countries: from Greece to Belgium; from Sweden to Italy.
We know climate change is one of the key drivers of many of these.
But the consequences of climate change extend well beyond Europe.
The whole planet is suffering from more extreme weather-related events.
Recently, more than 4 million people in Bangladesh were affected by the heaviest monsoon flooding in a century.
We are seeing floods in western parts of the United States of America.
According to the 2022 Global Risks Report, extreme weather risks are among the greatest threats facing our planet.
Next to these challenges stand economic, technological, and geopolitical risks.
Communities and societies are becoming more exposed to these new realities.
No country is immune. No country can face these challenges alone.
Therefore, the European Union continues to invest in European civil protection. Our goal is to protect all of Europe’s citizens. And to show our solidarity worldwide.
I am pleased to say that throughout the years the EU Civil Protection Mechanism has positioned itself firmly at the heart of Europe’s crisis response system.
It is the benchmark of European cooperation and solidarity.
Since its inception in 2001, the Mechanism has already been activated over 600 times. In Europe and across the world.
With each passing year, it has been called upon to help in more disasters, crises, and emergencies.
Before 2020, there were roughly 20 activations each year.
However, during 2021, the Mechanism responded already to more than 110 requests. An unprecedented record for a single year.
Only this year, we are already exceeding 60 activations.
This is another illustration that the number and complexity of crises is increasing. At the same time, the world is even more aware of the readiness and capacity of the EU to assist when disasters strike.
Because we can provide rapid assistance when and where it is needed.
This is also thanks to all your work over the past years.
Let me highlight some recent examples.
First, we have enhanced our collective response under the Civil Protection Mechanism. By strengthening capacities. By increasing co-funding.
Over the past years, we have taken one step further, with the creation of rescEU.
This is the European reserve of response assets. We started with firefighting capacities; as you all know they are developed and are operating. For example, Sweden is leasing two airplanes and for France and Greece there is an ongoing acquisition of two planes each. Thanks to rescEU we are getting better prepared.
In addition, over the past months we have been expanding rescEU further to many other areas which we are developing. Some examples are medical stockpiles, medical evacuations, CBRN decontamination, shelter, and energy.
To come back to our firefighting capacities: The fire season 2022 has already started and we have announced the rescEU firefighting fleet for the 2022 summer season. They stand ready to fight ever stronger fires in Europe.
I wish to thank Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Sweden who are hosting the aerial firefighting fleet.
We also innovate. This year we are pre-positioning fire fighting forces to Greece from 6 UCPM member countries. I would like to thank Bulgaria, Finland, France, Germany, Norway and Romania for planning to deploy around 200 of their personnel with equipment.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We must not focus only on response. We need to enhance our prevention and preparedness too. Particularly in view of large-scale emergencies that can affect several countries at the same time.
In this respect, we are working intensively with the Member States on most likely scenarios and EU-wide disaster resilience goals. This is to help us better define the priorities and ultimately support our decision making where to focus usually limited resources.
We need to define these scenarios and goals to be able to build a stronger, more resilient Europe.
In our work, we must rely on knowledge and expertise. Therefore, we have also established the Civil Protection Knowledge Network.
It is an information hub for the exchange of knowledge and skills.
It is a network that is facilitating training and joint exercises.
It is a platform for all of us to learn from one other.
in the past two years, we have also made our Civil Protection Mechanism more flexible and stronger financially.
To make it more “fit-for-purpose” in view of today’s crises.
Our Civil Protection Mechanism namely needs to respond to more disasters and crises than ever before.
It is proving its value added on an almost daily by now.
The timing of this year’s Civil Protection Forum coincides with an unprecedented crisis.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the greatest threat to European peace and stability in several generations.
What is more, it is creating unprecedented humanitarian needs. Millions of Ukrainian women and children are seeking refuge in our Member States. Many more are displaced inside Ukraine, struggling with capacity of various types
At this extraordinary time, the EU has a clear duty to help its closest neighbour.
Solidarity with Ukraine is vital in this critical moment.
Therefore, we have been responding to this crisis since its very beginning.
Every day we continue supplying Ukraine with civil protection assistance.
Through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, our Member States are providing millions of lifesaving supplies to Ukraine. But also, to Ukrainians seeking refuge in Moldova and European Union countries.
In fact, with regards to Ukraine our Emergency Response Coordination Centre is running the largest and longest operation in the Mechanism’s history.
To date, the ERCC has coordinated the delivery of about 40,000 tonnes of in-kind assistance to Ukraine worth some 400 million Euros.
Together, we have delivered fire engines, ambulances, medicine, medical equipment, food, equipment to face chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear incidents.
We mobilised rescEU reserves, but also delivered fuel, planting seeds for agriculture.
We even engaged the private sector, notably in health sector. Now we are working with business on addressing the digital needs in Ukraine.
We are also assisting patients from Ukraine to reach hospitals in Europe.
Some 700 patients have been transported to 13 EU countries through MEDEVAC.
I am impressed by this immense response and concrete demonstration of solidarity.
Allow me to thank everyone involved in these efforts in all 27 EU Member States and three Participating States, namely Norway, Turkey and North Macedonia. Without all of you in all these 30 countries, this would not have been possible.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is clear, we can make a real difference on the ground when we all work together, in a well coordinate manner
We should build on this momentum.
Especially in view of the evolving disaster risk landscape.
We need to do all in our power to protect our citizens from these risks.
But we need to learn more from our past experiences.
This includes also the need to expand our civil protection community.
One of our top priorities is therefore to bring all our Western Balkan neighbours into the European civil protection family. Most are already part but three should join soon: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, and Kosovo.
The Western Balkans have a long tradition of civil protection.
I could see that for myself when I visited Bosnia and Herzegovina in April and Albania just this month. While there, I saw the positive work being carried out throughout the region.
We have enjoyed strong cooperation in civil protection.
And we want to take this partnership to the next level.
This will strengthen the UCPM to the benefit of all.
Civil protection has never been as important.
This week, we have an opportunity to exchange innovative ideas about the next generation of European and global civil protection.
We want to hear your views:
· On how we can protect citizens from new risks;
· On how we can use sciences best;
· On how we can learn more from each other;
· On how we can help people around the world.
Our goal is clear: we want to make our emergency system faster, smarter, stronger and greener.
I am confident that we can succeed.
Once again, thank you for joining the 2022 Civil Protection Forum.