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European Law Monitor newsDimas welcomes Barnier idea on a rapid reaction force on forest fires

Stavros Dimas, European Commissioner for Environment and Civil Protection, welcomed the idea of former Commissioner Michel Barnier on a rapid reaction force on forest fires. Mr Barnier is the author of a report on a European civil protection force, where he proposes the creation of a European force that could immediately react in emergencies like the recent forest fires. This idea becomes timelier now after the ravaging fires that are still taking place in Southern Europe. Yesterday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis called for a closer cooperation in this field that goes beyond the traditional voluntary pooling of resources.    

Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "It is very encouraging that President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Karamanlis express their support to the creation of such a rapid reaction force on forest fires. Reality proves that this idea, which was at the basis of   a report presented by Mr Barnier last year, is a necessary step for the Member States. The catastrophic fires that destroyed millions of hectares of forestry could be tackled only with the assistance of the European partners. It is now time to enhance this mechanism, so that in the future we can be even more efficient''.

Barnier calls for closer cooperation

Former Commissioner and current French Minister for Agriculture Michel Barnier presented last year, at the request of the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso, a report suggesting ways to enhance the European civil protection mechanism. He proposes the creation of a permanent force, ensuring that a few main units are available and ready to intervene at any time.   In this way, the time needed to mobilise civil protection resources would be significantly reduced.

In the case of forest fires, he suggested that at least 10 fire fighting aircrafts at stand by are required to ensure a credible European response. Such resources would be managed by volunteering Member States but should be available for European missions on the request of the Monitoring and Information Centre, which should be further strengthened and developed into a genuine Operations Centre.

Since the end of June, the Commission's Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) has received a total of 8 requests for assistance from Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Bulgaria and, most recently the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia - to help combat the forest fires raging across Southern Europe. These requests triggered an immediate response from the MIC. Assistance was made available through the Community Civil Protection Mechanism by various Member States, including Italy, France, Spain and Greece. The situation is still acute, with all Southern EU Member States and most neighbouring countries combating major fires on their own territory.

The Community Mechanism for Civil Protection

The Community Mechanism   aims to facilitate reinforced cooperation in civil protection assistance interventions. It ensures the coordination of assistance intervention in order to provide prompt support and to assist a country (inside and outside the European Union) in need of help. The main objective is to provide the best possible response and preparedness when a major emergency situation arises.

Such activities are coordinated by the Commission through the activation of its Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC), located in DG Environment, Civil Protection Unit.

Some 30 states   participate in the Community Mechanism. These pool those resources that can be made available to disaster-stricken countries all over the world through this mechanism.

Since its creation, the Mechanism has been activated for a number of disasters worldwide, including the 2003 earthquake in Iran; the 2004 tsunami affected South East Asia; the 2005 forest fires in Portugal, flooding in Bulgaria and Romania, Hurricane Katrina in the US and the earthquake in Pakistan in 2005, the Lebanon crisis in 2006. This year the Mechanism was activated for floods in Bolivia, as well as forest fires in Italy, Greece and Cyprus.  

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