When Kosovo1 asked for help to the EU’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre, Slovenia was quick to respond. Right after the request was received, the country sent a batch of personal protective material out of its own stock to Kosovo and other Balkan countries in need.
Eleonore Colin was on duty at the Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) desk in Brussels in September 2021 when a call came through from Slovenia.
It was not a cry for help but an offer to assist Kosovo, where a lack of personal protective material against COVID-19 was hampering the pandemic response.
Kosovo had previously flagged its needs to the ERCC, which coordinates the delivery of assistance from the 27 EU countries and 6 participating states within the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.
When a country is facing a medical emergency, a natural hazard or other humanitarian crises, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism steps in to ensure support is provided. This time, Slovenia had the capacity to help.
It was not the first time Slovenia offered assistance in times of COVID-19. The masks and other protective material for Kosovo were part of a larger batch of 559,000 items sent to Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia from April 2021 onwards, following their calls to the ERCC requesting help.
As Colin explains, Slovenia organised delivery operations within a matter of days following the phone call.
The official on the other end, Slovenian civil protection officer Borut Horvat, knew the importance of acting quickly and concisely in an emergency.
“If your job is about saving lives, urgency is always part of it, whether you are responding to the COVID-19 emergency or an earthquake,” he says.
As an international operations advisor in the Administration of the Republic of Slovenia for Civil Protection and Disaster Relief, Horvat was in charge of coordinating the shipment of protective material to countries in need.
This mission was particularly meaningful to him, due to a special bond he felt with people in the countries affected by the emergency.
“I have worked there in the past, so I know a lot of people and I have friends there. To me, this mission was beyond solidarity; it was more about responsibility.”
Without the support of the ERCC, Horvat says, it would have been almost impossible to carry out operations such as the ones he coordinated.
“Back when I started 15 years ago, it would have been so time consuming that countries would have just given up,” he says. “Now, it’s a completely different story.”
Ready for future emergencies
While Horvat has extensive experience in civil protection work, Colin only joined the ERCC during the pandemic.
“It was really special to start working in these conditions,” she says.
“I was working on the same crisis that I was experiencing back home in Belgium, at least to some extent, so I was particularly aware of its impact.”
Support from the EU, Colin explains, could be expanded even further in future medical emergencies.
“We have a last resort capacity,” she explains, referring to the rescEU medical stockpile available to member and participating states within the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.
“If no country is able to offer medical material, the EU can step in with its own reserve.”
While it helped Kosovo by providing a portion of its own stock, Slovenia is now among the countries hosting a rescEU stockpile.
1This 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.