EU extends civil protection mechanism as fires rage on

Written by Martin Banks and Julie Levy-Abegnoli on 24 July 2018 in News

Greece has become the latest member state to ask the European Commission for help in tackling devastating forest fires currently raging across the country.

Greece, Artemida: The sky over Artemida (Attica region), colored red due to the smoke from a fire | Photo credit: Press Association

The Commission has already channelled what it says is a record level of support to help Sweden battle unprecedented forest fires. 

Now Greece has asked the executive and other countries for help in fighting a number of fires raging out of control around the country. On Tuesday, it was estimated that over 60 people had died in the fires on the Greek mainland.

Greece sought international help as the fires on either side of Athens left lines of cars torched, charred farms and forests, and sent hundreds of people racing to beaches to be evacuated by navy vessels, yachts and fishing boats.

More than 700 people have been rescued by sea by the coast guard and hundreds of people were forced to race to beaches where they were rescued by navy vessels, yachts and fishing boats.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, speaking during an official visit in Bosnia, said, “We will do whatever is humanly possible to control it.”

He suggested that so many fires at once needed further scrutiny, saying, “I’m concerned at the simultaneous outbreaks both east and west of Attica.”

The Greek appeal is only the latest in a series of such pleas this summer as EU countries struggle to cope with fires said to be caused by the continuing heatwave.

So far, seven firefighting planes, seven helicopters, 60 vehicles and over 340 personnel have been offered through the EU’s civil protection mechanism to tackle fires in Italy, France, Germany, Lithuania, Denmark, Portugal, Poland and Austria. 

European humanitarian aid and crisis management Commissioner for Christos Stylianides said, “We have been working 24/7 to help Sweden. This is our duty in a Europe that protects and is close to citizens. Over the past week a record level of EU support has been mobilised.”

He said that the fires in Sweden “show that climate change is real and that no country is immune to natural disasters.”

He added, “This is why the Commission has proposed to strengthen EU civil protection response so that when multiple disasters hit member states they are better prepared to confront them.” 

Stylianides said, “The EU stands by the Swedish government and the Swedish people in their time of need. I would like to thank all countries for their quick offers of help through our EU civil protection mechanism. 

“We have helped mobilise many planes, helicopters, vehicles and ground forces to address the massive needs. We are in contact with other countries for possible additional support. This is solidarity in action. This is what our citizens expect in a Europe that protects.”

A Commission spokesperson said its emergency response coordination centre is closely monitoring the situation in Sweden and the forest fire risk across Europe including in Greece. The EU’s emergency Copernicus satellite is also helping Sweden provide damage assessment maps of the affected areas. 

A spokesperson for the centre, which monitors natural disasters 24/7, said it is in contact with the Swedish and Greek civil protection authorities and is closely monitoring developments.

On Tuesday, several MEPs reacted to the deadly fires. Parliament President Antonio Tajani said, “EU solidarity in action with the Greek people. European civil protection mechanism is delivering immediate assistance to Greece with Canadair and firefighters to stop fires near Athens. The European Parliament stands by your side.”

Manfred Weber, Chair of Parliament’s EPP group, said he was, “saddened to see the images coming from Greece. My deepest sympathy to the victims of the Greece fires and their families and friends. Also the forest fires in Sweden show that European solidarity is more important than ever in the face of disasters such as these.”

His S&D group counterpart, Udo Bullmann, praised the EU’s efforts, saying, “This is European Union solidarity in action. Thank you to the EU civil protection and to all EU member states offering support to fight the fires in Greece and Sweden.”

ALDE group leader Guy Verhofstadt tweeted, “EU countries have responded with incredible solidarity to the fires raging in Sweden and I hope Europe will unite to help the  people of Greece at this difficult time.”

Greek Socialist deputy Eva Kaili said in another tweet, “We need our friends and allies more than ever but most of all we need a European shield to protect citizens from any unexpected tragedy than no one could face alone.”


About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter for the Parliament Magazine

Julie Levy-Abegnoli is a journalist for the Parliament Magazine

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