European mind-set needed in future disaster response capacity

23 June 2011

The EHEC crisis, immigration flows from North Africa, cyber-attacks and the Volcanic Ash crises show that the EU should strive to eliminate today's barriers to an efficient disaster response capacity. During a workshop on June 15, Magnus Ekengren addressed the European Parliament Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety.

He pointed out the importance of the Union working towards a European mind-set with national stakeholders in order to strengthen the Union's disaster response capacity.

Magnus Ekengren is an associate professor at the National Defence College and director of the Program for European Security - EUROSEC. Besides Ekengren, among others were EU Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva and Agostino Miozzo, responsible for crisis response in the new European External Action Service who spoke at the workshop.


The EU Commissioner for international cooperation, humanitarian aid and crisis response, Kristalina Georgieva, has proposed the establishment of a European Emergency Response Capacity based on precommitted member states' assets and pre-agreed contingency plans (Commission Communication 26.10.2010). The aim is to take the EU from ad hoc coordination to a system of planned pooling of national resources for prevention and immediate responses to crisis, both inside and outside the Union. On 15 June, the proposal of the Commissioner was discussed in the European Parliament with the participation of MEPs and high representatives of the Commission, the EEAS and international and national organisations. Associate Professor Magnus Ekengren, Swedish National Defence College, was invited to present his views as an expert on European disaster response.

In his speech Dr Ekengren welcomed the Commissioner's proposal and pointed to the remaining challenge of transforming national capacities and thinking for the practical realisation of its goals. There is an urgent need to discuss how the EU can support domestic reforms, strengthen mutual trust and remove obstacles to cooperation for a more integrated European disaster response system.

According to Dr Ekengren the EU needs new methods of cooperation aimed at change in the EU member states. It is not enough to pool and "mobilize all instruments" (solidarity clause), if these, together with national structures and regulations, are not systematically adapted to EU needs. The work for new transboundary, cross-sectoral prevention and preparedness structures can only to a limited extent be legislated "from above" or coordinated at the highest political level in the Union bodies. The EU needs to create long-term pressure "from below" on national stakeholders to foster a European mind-set and a robust transnational organisational capacity. The goal should be to coordinate and integrate national systems to such a degree that member states can respond together in disaster situations across a wide range of areas within public administration; military, emergency services, police, judiciary and intelligence services, as well as civil society, business and voluntary organisations.

This requires new thinking on the possibility of more deep acting guidelines, standards and methods to get those involved to pull together towards European goals. Dr Ekengren welcomed the steps taken towards such a system in the Commission's work to renew EU civil protection legislation. Next steps should include:

  • Adoption of "EU disaster response guidelines"
  • Adoption of "National Action Plans", including regional and local levels
  • Joint (Commission and Council) evaluation of national plans
  • EU recommendations to individual member countries not doing enough to meet EU guidelines
  • Deadlines for establishing minimum standards in member states
  • The goal that a certain percentage of national plans should be common to all member states.

The aim should be to create active and flexible structures focused on how EU institutions and national capacities, when brought together, can add value to the safety of European citizens and societies. (cf. Ekengren 2006)

Dr Ekengren also pointed out the high costs of the EU's fragmented disaster response capacity, highlighted by recent transboundary disasters such as the EHEC crisis, immigration flows from North Africa, cyber-attacks on critical communications infrastructures and the Volcanic Ash crises. There is a need for the EU to remove obstacles to European cooperation such as national regulations, - financial frameworks and - calculations of risks and costs. Dr Ekengren proposed that the Commission takes the initiative for a study on the cost of non-cooperation – "the cost of non-Europe" – for transboundary disaster response. The objective should be to calculate current aggregated (national) costs stemming from transboundary disasters and how much Europe can reduce them.

The goal could be to create a "European disaster response system by 2018".

As a result of the study the Commission could:

  • Propose EC legislation for harmonization of law and technical and financial standards
  • Point out areas where mutual recognition of national procedures and regulation would be enough for a well-functioning European system
  • Quantify costs of non-compliance and set strict deadlines for implementation in member states

The advantage of this method is that it would spur a systematic debate on barriers to cooperation, create incentives for coordinated European response, create momentum for national reform and implementation and standards for interoperability.

Most importantly, the Cost of Non-Europe project would, according to Dr Magnus Ekengren, contribute to a shift in today's view on European disaster response: from seeing European cooperation as just an 'added value' to existing national capacity to a perspective on national resources as parts of an aggregated European system. It would help Europe to take the step from a European security community to a secure European community "where there is real assurance that the members will assist each other in safeguarding democratic institutions, the civilian population and international human security".

Read more:

Magnus Ekengren's presentation 15 June (PDF, 777 kB)

New Security Challenges and the Need for New Forms of EU Cooperation: The Solidarity Declaration against Terrorism and the Open Method of Coordination, article by Magnus Ekengren in European Security, Vol. 15, No. 1, 89-111, March 2006 (PDF, 157 kB)

Photo: Paul-Henri SPAAK building and Brussels' empty Hemicycle : © Association des Architectes du CIC: Vanden Bossche sprl, CRV s.A., CDG sprl, Studiegroep D. Bontinck. PHOTO © European Union.


Magnus Ekengren
Department of Security, Strategy and Leadership, Political Science Section

Magnus.Ekengren [at]