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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations
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EU Civil Protection Mechanism

What is it?

In October 2001, the European Commission established the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. The Mechanism aims to strengthen cooperation between the EU countries and 10 participating states on civil protection to improve prevention, preparedness, and response to disasters.

When an emergency overwhelms the response capabilities of a country in Europe and beyond, it can request assistance through the Mechanism. The Commission plays a key role in coordinating the disaster response worldwide, contributing to at least 75% of the transport and/or operational costs of deployments.

Why is this important?

Disasters know no borders and can simultaneously hit one or several countries without warning. Having a well-coordinated joint response means that when national authorities are overwhelmed, they have one point of contact rather than multiple to deal with.

Since its inception in 2001, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism has responded to over 700 requests for assistance inside and outside the EU.

The Mechanism also helps coordinate disaster preparedness and prevention activities of national authorities and contributes to the exchange of best practices. This facilitates the continuous development of higher common standards enabling teams to understand different approaches better and work interchangeably when a disaster strikes.

How are we helping?

Following a request for assistance through the Mechanism, the Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) mobilises assistance or expertise.

The ERCC monitors events around the globe 24/7 and ensures rapid deployment of emergency support through a direct link with national civil protection authorities.

Specialised teams and equipment, such as firefighting planes, search and rescue and medical teams, can be mobilised at short notice for deployments inside and outside of Europe.

Visual showing the different steps from activation to final delivery.

Satellite maps produced by the Copernicus Emergency Management Service also support civil protection operations. Copernicus provides timely and precise geospatial information useful for delineating affected areas and planning disaster relief operations.

In developing countries, civil protection assistance typically goes hand in hand with EU humanitarian aid. Experts in both fields work closely together to ensure the most coherent analysis and response, particularly in response to complex emergencies.

The Mechanism also intervenes in marine pollution emergencies. The ERCC can quickly mobilise oil recovery capacity and expertise from the participating states and the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA).

EU civil protection in action

Any country in the world, but also the United Nations and its agencies or a relevant international organisation, can call on the EU Civil Protection Mechanism for help.

In 2022, the Mechanism was activated 106 times to respond to (i) war in Ukraine; (ii) wildfires in Europe; (iii) COVID-19 in Europe and worldwide; and (iv) floods in Pakistan.

Additionally, Member States and participating states can also activate the Mechanism to seek assistance for consular support to their citizens (e.g., in the context of evacuation operations). 

A strong EU response in times of crisis

In response to a deteriorating humanitarian situation in Ukraine, all 27 EU countries, plus 5 participating states (Iceland, North Macedonia, Norway, Serbia, and Türkiye), have offered help to Ukraine via the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

The assistance includes millions of items such as first aid kits, shelter equipment, firefighting equipment, water pumps, power generators, and fuel.

An extra layer of protection

In 2019, the EU upgraded the EU Civil Protection Mechanism and created rescEU. The aim was to protect citizens from disasters and manage emerging risks.

Fully financed by the EU, rescEU strengthens European preparedness for disasters and boosts the capacity to respond to crises in Europe. Such as wildfires, medical emergencies, chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear incidents, shelter needs, emergency transportation, and electricity supplies.

During COVID-19, the EU has distributed millions of protective masks, medical gloves and ventilators coming from strategic rescEU distribution centres currently hosted by 10 EU Member States to European countries in need.

Pooling resources

EU Member States and participating states may commit national resources for emergency response to the European Civil Protection Pool (ECPP).

This pool allows for better planning and coordination of response activities at European and national levels which means a faster and reliable EU response to disasters. The Pool constitutes the backbone of the Mechanism.

Prevention and preparedness

Prevention and preparedness activities mitigate the effects of disasters. A training programme for civil protection experts from EU Member States and participating states ensures compatibility and complementarity between intervention teams, while large-scale exercises train capacities for specific disasters each year.

The EU supports and complements prevention and preparedness efforts of its Member States and participating states by focusing on areas where a joint European approach is more effective than separate national actions.

These include risk assessments to identify the disaster risks across the EU, encouraging research to promote disaster resilience and reinforcing early warning tools.

Watch the explainer video

Last updated: 27/09/2023

Facts & figures

Since 2001, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism has been activated over 700 times to respond to emergencies.

The Mechanism pools response capacities from all EU countries and 10 participating states.

The Mechanism can be deployed inside the EU and around the world.

Joint disaster prevention and preparedness actions.

In response to the war in Ukraine, the EU is implementing its largest emergency operation since the creation of the Mechanism, and channels millions of emergency items to Ukraine and the region.