Subject: Forest fire prevention in the Prefecture of Attica

7 September 2009    

WRITTEN QUESTION by Stavros Lambrinidis (S-D) , Maria Eleni Koppa (S-D) , Anni Podimata (S-D) , Georgios Stavrakakis (S-D) , Kriton Arsenis (S-D) , Chrysoula Paliadeli (S-D) , Giorgos Papakonstantinou (S-D) and Sylvana Rapti (S-D) to the Council

SUBJECT:Forest fire prevention in the Prefecture of Attica

Exactly two years after the tragic fires in Greece, history is unfortunately repeating itself: once again catastrophic fires have devastated the forests of northern and eastern Attica, thereby depriving the Prefecture of its few remaining green ‘lungs’.

Bearing in mind that in a communication of March 2009, the Commission had proposed a series of specific measures and mechanisms aimed at improving the Union’s prevention, readiness and response capabilities in the event of disasters, such as fires, and recognising the dramatic reduction in forest cover in southern Europe, will the Council say:
1.     How well has the European preventive mechanism worked and to what extent have existing anti-fire mechanisms been set in motion this summer in southern Europe, bearing in mind that according to latest estimates by the European Forest Fire Information System, up to the middle of this year (2009) 200 000 hectares had been burnt in EU Member States, that is some 20 000 hectares more than in 2008?
2.     Has any assessment been carried out of planned measures to create and operate a European training network to address disasters and for the early warning of the intervention and rehabilitation phases in the event of disasters, inter alia, through the Global Monitoring for the Environment and Security (GMES) initiative and the use of the European single emergency call number (112)?
3.     What progress has been made in the execution of projects in Greece for the 2007‑13 period under the European Regional Fund and the Cohesion Fund to prevent and address risks, in particular as regards the Operational Programme for the Environment (2007‑13) and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development as regards the restoration of forestry capacity and the introduction of preventive measures?
4.     How does it view the information contained in a recent WWF Greece report (July 2009) condemning the failure to include fire brigade and civil protection group volunteers in the Greek framework? How does it view the accusations made by the Association of Fire Brigade Officials regarding shortages of personnel, shortcomings in material and technical infrastructures and in the critical sector of prevention? What information is available about the take-up rate and the use of the available Community aid resources by Greece to carry out preventive measures in 2008‑09?


28 October 2009    

E-4234/2009  Reply

Since the devastating forest fires of 2007, good progress has been made on improving the EU's response capacity, in particular in terms of interoperability and complementarity of civil protection units. The Council, in its conclusions of 27 November 2008(1), called on the Commission, in close cooperation with the Member States, to further strengthen the European mutual assistance, based on an improved cooperation within the Community Civil Protection Mechanism, which should take into account scenarios and risk analysis. The Council also took note of the existing preparatory action on the establishment of an EU Rapid Response Capability and called for its evaluation. This preparatory action is financed with a EUR 7.5 million budgetary envelope made available by the European Parliament and the Council acting as a Budgetary Authority.

There is, however, still room for improvements of the overall EU civil protection rapid response capacity. This should aim at further improving the availability, use and coordination of civil protection assistance in order to ensure that the EU response to any kind of disasters is adequate and effective.

When a number of forest fires broke out again in summer 2009, Greece immediately activated the Community Civil Protection Mechanism. Through the abovementioned preparatory action on the establishment of an EU Rapid Response Capability, two Canadair CL-215 aircraft were made available under the EU Forest Fire Tactical Reserve. In addition, five other Canadair aircraft (CL‑215/CL415) were deployed by Italy, France and Turkey, and one CAMOV 32 helicopter was deployed by Cyprus.

Prevention being an important element in a comprehensive disaster response, the Council is currently examining the March 2009 Commission communication ‘A Community approach on the prevention of natural and man-made disasters’(2) with the aim of drawing conclusions on the development of an EU strategy for the prevention of natural and man-made disasters by the end of the year.

Experience has shown that the effectiveness of European civil protection interventions is largely determined by the training received by the intervention teams. The training system developed since 2004 by the Commission within the Civil Protection Mechanism has contributed significantly to improving European preparedness and response capacity. In this context, in its conclusions of 27 November 2008(3) the Council called for the setting up of European Disaster Management Training Arrangements covering all aspects of disaster management with two strands of work: promoting consistency amongst national training programmes in support of disaster management, and offering a wide range of training opportunities at Community level for disaster management experts and intervention personnel, primarily by diversifying and reinforcing the existing Mechanism training programme. At this stage, the Council is awaiting the Commission's proposals.

Work on early warning systems is ongoing, based on the Council conclusions of December 2007(4) on the development and establishment of Early Warning Systems in the EU.

Finally, on 11 February 2009 a Joint Tripartite Declaration(5) (European Parliament, the Commission and the Council) established the ‘112 Day’ where the idea is to enhance knowledge about the 112 number, e.g. by exchanging best practices and lessons learnt.

Regarding the progress made in the execution of projects in Greece under the European Regional Fund and the Cohesion Fund, the Council recalls that it is in the Commission's competence to decide whether any assistance can be granted through the European Union Regional, Cohesion and Rural Development Funds, inter alia in order to restore forestry potential and to introduce preventive measures. It is also the Commission's responsibility to monitor the use of these Funds. The structure and management of civil protection units is in Member States' competence.

<p.(1)    16474/08.
(2)    7075/1/09 REV.1, COM(2009) 82 final/2.
(3)    16754/08.
(4)    15473/07.
(5)    6178/09.