EU Commissioner Addresses the Tangent Link Aerial Firefighting Conference in Nîmes

With wildfires breaking out all over Europe this summer, Christian Stylianides, the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, has had his hand full of late.  We appreciate that he found time in his busy schedule to deliver the key-note address.  He spoke of his admiration for the work the aerial firefighting community is doing, not just in Europe but around the world.

This [Aerial Firefighting Europe Conference and Exhibition] is an excellent opportunity to exchange ideas and develop solutions by actors from all over the world.  Through this process we can improve our collective response to forest fires, because these forest fires are a collective challenge. At the same time we can innovate and develop our procedures.  France of course is playing a leading role in aerial firefighting, and here at Nîmes we are at the heart of its firefighting response. It is my third time here at the BASC [Base Aérienne Sécurité Civile] hub and it is truly impressive, and hope it will develop into a true European hub. This is our objective, to share knowledge, pool capabilities and share experiences of the past summers.  This is crucial.  The devastating forest fires across Europe has shown that no country can face these overwhelming problems on their own. I want to pay tribute to the brave community of first-responders who dedicate their lives to saving other people’s lives.

The scale of destruction over the summer was unprecedented and it is not over. Spain, Portugal and California have experienced their worst-ever forest fires.  Unfortunately, this could become even normal because it’s the sign of climate change.  Countries all along the southern European region are facing the challenge of forest fires simultaneously, and we are seeing similar issues across Latin America, North Africa and the Middle East.

“In Europe, the fires are not dedicated just to the south, a few years ago we saw fires in Sweden where French and other European assistance was required. This year Greenland even faced forest fires which would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. Therefore, we are facing widespread challenges.   It is our collective responsibility to learn from these large scale emergencies and face up to these new challenges together.  We must adjust our response to be more effective in the best possible way. There is no doubt we owe this to our community and our people.

“The EU is a global player. Through the European Union Crisis Response Centre [CRC] we ensure a comprehensive mobilisation and coordination effort. The CRC works non-stop 24/7/365 on disasters and other crisis all over the world, in real time. It facilitates offers of help from European countries in its Civil Protection mechanism in the fight against fires everywhere.

Here I would like to underline the French contribution to the European effort. France is one of the founding powers of the Civil Protection mechanism and regularly sends aircraft all over the world to combat forest fires.  It is a strong example of what we can do as Europeans when we come together.

“When we join forces in solidarity on the ground, it often shows the limitations of our system. Often, we experience the same challenges at the same time.  Sometimes we cannot provide the assistance request. There is nothing more frustrating than wanting to help, and the citizens expect more from us so we need to upgrade and reinforce our response. We need to fill the critical gaps in our response, particularly in specific capacities such as planes.

“It is not by coincidence that President Macron has called for a European Civil Protection Force.  First, we must increase our collective capacity to respond, simplify and streamline the procedures and third we must have stronger links between national capacities and the deployment of assets at a European level.”

The latter are all real issues, one which the EU Commissioner must address as quickly as possible to ensure that lives are not being lost, as they are now.  Surely, one of the ways forward is a European Union funded Aerial Firefighting Force.  

Alan Warnes
Freelance Journalist