by Tristan Simonart, Team Leader, International Cooperation, DG ECHO, European Commission, Brussels
Due to their immediate geographic proximity, the European Union (EU) and its eastern and southern neighbouring regions and countries face similar cross-border disaster risks. Some of them are further exacerbated by the severe and increasing impact of climate change, as already seen this year with pre-summer forest fires and devastating flash floods in Algeria, Jordan, Tunisia and Italy, following months of severe and unprecedented drought.
In times of sudden crisis and major disasters, European neighbours know that they can rely on European solidarity coordinated by the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM) and its Emergency Response Crisis Centre (ERCC). This solidarity has been reinforced year after year and reached an unprecedented level of response during the global Covid-19 health crisis, the February 2023 quakes in Türkiye and Syria, recent floods in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, as well as since the start of the war of aggression against Ukraine in early 2022.
A model for southern and eastern countries
From that perspective the European civil protection solidarity system, building on over a decade of EU support on civil protection, became a real model that inspires many other countries and regions worldwide. Beside the 24/7 response provided by the ERCC, there is also an increasing readiness and willingness from these eastern and southern countries to invest much more in prevention and preparedness against future upcoming crises.
Furthermore, most of them aim to step up their longstanding or “historical” status of international assistance recipient countries towards the status of contributing countries, in the limits of their resources and capabilities. They want to become part of the game and to play a role by offering assistance to others, as it was confirmed by the Director General of Palestinian Civil Defence, Major General Alabed I A Khalil, in March 2023: “We deployed a Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team to Türkiye in February 2023 after the earthquakes and, as the Palestinian Civil Defence Authority, we stand ready to do the same or more with the EU and any of our neighbours in the future, would a new crisis hit them at any time.”
Principles and strategies for regional cooperation
As contribution to these developments, the European Commission Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO) has developed in the last two years a more acute and bottom-up regional cooperation and partnership strategy in its neighbourhood, under the umbrella of the UCPM. This year, DG ECHO is launching a series of new regional initiatives and actions aimed at reinforcing cross-border cooperation on prevention, preparedness and operational interactions needed for a quicker, more efficient and less expensive response in case of a crisis.
The renewed civil protection cooperation strategy is anchored in the European neighbourhood under several core principles, being progressively implemented in three geographic regions:
Enlargement countries: Western Balkans and Türkiye
Eastern partnership: Armenia, Azerbaijan, (Belarus), Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine
Southern neighbourhood: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, (Syria).
Principle 1: Reinforcing the EU civil protection cooperation diplomacy by anchoring and boosting the UCPM cooperation into the existing regional policy and technical frameworks, in close cooperation.
In the Mediterranean this translates into cooperation with the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM). In southeastern Europe, while almost all the Western Balkans became participating states to the UCPM, this approach aims at close regional cooperation with the Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Initiative (DPPI SEE) at a technical level, with the Regional Cooperation Council for Southeastern Europe (RCC SEE) at a policy level, as well as with the UNDRR Europe office.
Principle 2: Leveraging capacity-building regional cooperation with concrete new civil protection programmes and presence on the ground of senior regional experts allowing DG ECHO to leverage its engagement with countries on civil protection.
In the Western Balkans and Türkiye, a new regional flagship action (the IPA CARE 2023-2027) has been recently launched and a permanent senior technical on-site advisor, Sergej Anagnosti, has been deployed in Belgrade.
In the Mediterranean a new programme on Prevention, Preparedness, Response to natural & man-made Disasters (PPRD 2023-2025) was launched during the climate change and civil protection high level event in Rome on 5-7 June. The region can also rely on the full-time presence of the senior regional expert in Tunis, Colonel Major Mohamed Ataknit.
Principle 3: Scaling up the use of available UCPM services to the benefit of the partnership and cooperation between DG ECHO, the EU and the countries from the region. These UCPM benefits may include a variety of tools like the access to calls for proposals for prevention and preparedness projects (bilateral and regional projects); peer reviews; the participation in training programmes; exchanges of experts; table top, module or full scale exercises; as well as the UCPM knowledge network.
 With the exception of Kosovo (This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence”).
 United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), Regional Office for Europe & Central Asia (ROECA)