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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations
Emergency Support Instrument


What is it?

The Emergency Support Instrument (ESI) enables the European Union to support its Member States when a crisis reaches exceptional scale and impact, with wide-ranging consequences on the lives of citizens. In April 2020, the Emergency Support Instrument was activated to help EU countries address the coronavirus pandemic. ESI continues to provide fundamental assistance in the fight against COVID-19.

Why is this important?

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a large-scale loss of life in the EU and caused untold hardship for citizens. The EU has never faced a health crisis of a similar scale in its history, nor one spreading at this speed.

Addressing this exceptional situation effectively requires a coordinated strategy of different measures aimed at saving lives, and preventing and alleviating human suffering.

Solidarity is a fundamental EU value, and the Emergency Support Instrument demonstrates it in practice. It allows the EU to rapidly address the human and economic consequences of a crisis and fund actions that make a difference on the ground.

The Emergency Support Instrument is a flexible tool, designed to respond to different types of evolving needs. Member States can use it when they require immediate support in addressing a crisis, as well as for crisis prevention, and during the recovery phase.
This tool aims at enhancing existing EU programmes and instruments, including rescEU and the Joint Procurement Procedure. It also aims at complementing ongoing efforts at national level.

The Emergency Support Instrument provides fast and targeted actions to support Member States in extraordinary circumstances. ESI also focuses on actions with a clear added value at the EU level. It can respond proactively, mobilising resources and deploying them across Member States based on needs.

How are we helping?

The EU can mobilise emergency support inside Europe when exceptional crises hit one or more EU Member States. In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, the EU has allocated €2.7 billion to support EU Member States in their immediate response, exit and recovery phases from the pandemic.

The Emergency Support Instrument allows funds to be directed to areas such as logistics, medical supplies, testing, vaccines, treatment, emergency aid, and health care facilities and staff. The Emergency Support Instrument can support several actions:

  • transporting patients and medical staff across EU Member States
  • procuring essential medicines
  • researching and producing treatment and vaccines
  • developing, purchasing, and distributing testing supplies.

In particular, the EU has allocated €220 million for 3 actions on civil protection and humanitarian aid, known as the “ESI Mobility Package”, which covers:

  • cargo transport (e.g. assistance and medical items, COVID-19 vaccination-related equipment and therapeutics) to the EU from third countries and within the EU
  • facilitation of transfer of patients within the EU and from the EU to third countries (from a Member State to either a Member State or a third country welcoming patients)
  • facilitation of transport of medical personnel and teams, within the EU and into the EU from third countries, as well as operational support for mobile medical response capacities.

This allows the EU to finance up to 100% of the eligible costs of these transport operations, depending on funds available.

COVID-19 response

Between April and September 2020, ESI provided €150 million to 18 Member States and the UK for the transport of essential medical items. This funding supported more than 1,000 flights and 500 deliveries by road and sea containing life-saving personal protective equipment, medicines and medical equipment. To date, the EU has mobilised €1 million to Member States for the transport of more than 280 medical workers and around 30 patients.

Current COVID-19 mobility restrictions represent a potential obstacle to the EU’s vaccination efforts. Additionally, the recent incident in the Suez Canal has exacerbated already existing strains on the global logistics sector. In light of this, the EU is offering support to the Member States’ logistical efforts for the transport of COVID-19 vaccination-related equipment (e.g. needles and syringes, as well as personnel protective equipment and other equipment) and therapeutics.  

Funding availability

EU Member States can still apply for funding to support transfer of patients and transport of medical personnel and teams. Applications for these 2 strands are open-ended.

As of July 2021, EU Member States can apply for support with the transport of cargo of COVID-19 vaccination-related equipment and COVID-19 therapeutics via the Commission’s broker. This is an operational and straightforward tool, and a transport solution can be proposed in a very short time, with a fast and simple application procedure.

An indicative amount of €20 million from the ESI Mobility Package will fund these actions.

Only EU Member State public authorities can apply for this support. Member State authorities (national, regional and local authorities and other public bodies) can contact for further details on how to apply.

For more information, see the Q&A section.  

Previous activations

The Emergency Support Instrument was activated once in the past: in 2016, to support Greece in managing the influx of refugees and migrants.

Between 2016 and 2019, ESI funded 29 projects in Greece, for a total of €643.6 million.

A summary of interventions and achievements of this activation can be found in the published final evaluation.

Last updated:12/11/2021

Picture: European Union, 2020

Facts & figures

The Emergency Support Instrument helps Member States to address crises inside the EU, such as the coronavirus pandemic.

€2.7 billion available to fund crisis response, exit and recovery.

Complementary to other EU and national programmes.

€220 million under the Mobility Package, to support cargo operations, transfer of patients and medical teams on the COVID-19 emergency.