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Document 52023DC0061


COM/2023/61 final

Brussels, 8.2.2023

COM(2023) 61 final


European Union Disaster Resilience Goals: Acting together to deal with future emergencies

I.The European Union in a changing risk landscape: preparing for the unknown

The EU is confronted by multiple, simultaneous challenges and threats, some of which would have been considered unthinkable until very recently. It needs to anticipate these challenges and be better prepared. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has rocked the continent and shows our responsibility to strengthen civilian emergency preparedness for multiple threats, both man-made and natural, in the increasingly unsettled global security context. Nuclear risk, disruption of energy, transport and food supplies, interruption of medical treatment, destruction of health infrastructure and mass population movements within Europe highlight the importance of maintaining the essential services that underpin our society.

While a war is raging on our Eastern border, the EU continues to deal with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pandemics featured among the top identified risks in the national risk assessments of several European countries prior to the emergence of COVID-19. Yet, risk identification had not translated into specific emergency planning and disaster prevention efforts that could have better protected our citizens. Based on this lesson learned, the Union strengthened its health security framework, notably through the EU Health Union.

While we are dealing with these crises, the heavy impact of climate change is increasingly apparent in our daily lives and further exacerbates Europe’s vulnerability to crises 1 . Temperatures in Europe have increased by more than twice the global average over the past 30 years – the highest of any continent in the world 2 . This warming trend has serious consequences. In 2022, drought affected nearly two thirds of the EU territory 3 , which reduced river flows, water reservoirs and ground water, impacting health, energy, water supplies, transport and agricultural production. Heatwaves pose a serious risk to life and human health. Repeated prolonged periods of drought are increasing the geographical scope, frequency and intensity of wildfires across the entire EU. The 2022 fire season was the second worst in the EU and recorded a 250% increase over the average burnt area in the past 15 years 4 . The devastating floods that hit several European countries in July 2021 are an equally stark reminder that extreme weather events claim lives, damage homes and cause significant economic losses. Environmental degradation caused by pollution, deforestation, and other human activities increases ecosystems’ vulnerability and amplifies the impacts of climate change. Over half of the EU Member States consider earthquakes to be a main risk. Extreme weather aggravates the seismic vulnerability of Europe’s ageing infrastructure, including transport infrastructure, hospitals, fire stations, and energy production and distribution facilities. 

In the aftermath of a disaster, civil protection 5  is the lifeline for affected populations. Through the Union Civil Protection Mechanism (‘Union Mechanism’) 6  the EU has been stepping up its emergency readiness at all levels. When a crisis overwhelms the capacity of a single country, the Union Mechanism provides the operational backbone for Europe’s collective response both within the Union (including the EU outermost regions), and outside the Union. Between 2020 and 2022, the Union Mechanism was activated over 320 7 times, including more than 100 times by the Member States. This is five times more than the average of the previous 10 years. 

In the context of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, the Union Mechanism has provided life-saving assistance with the largest and most complex EU civil protection operation since its establishment. It has delivered over 80,000 tonnes of in-kind assistance to Ukraine and its neighbouring countries, worth some EUR 500 million.

Delivery of rescEU power generators to Ukraine

© Departamentul pentru Situaţii de Urgenţă, 2022

At the early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Union Mechanism established the first strategic rescEU 8  stockpile of medical countermeasures which contributed to saving thousands of lives across Europe. It facilitated the repatriation of over 100,000 EU citizens stranded abroad during the pandemic and the distribution of 40 million vaccine doses to 49 countries worldwide in line with the EU Vaccine strategy.

The Union Mechanism channelled collective European solidarity that enabled a strong response to massive wildfires during the summer of 2022: airplanes and helicopters were mobilised for 38 EU firefighting operations, in addition to nearly 400 firefighters and 100 vehicles deployed under the EU flag to save lives and prevent European forests from burning.

For over two decades the Union Mechanism has also supported and complemented Member States’ efforts for disaster prevention and preparedness. In the face of the evolving risk landscape, such efforts have to be reinforced. Effective prevention and preparedness need to be based on forward-looking scenarios that reach beyond the civil protection system, across different socio-economic sectors and include our cultural heritage. The complexity and interdependency of risks the EU faces shows the importance of identifying vulnerabilities in critical sectors, anticipating hazards and threats and reinforcing collective action to better prevent and prepare for disasters.

II.Five disaster resilience goals to strengthen the EU overall resilience

The convergence of multiple, simultaneous risks that ripple across national borders calls for a change of mindset at all levels. National disaster risk identification and planning quickly reaches its limits when threats, vulnerabilities and interdependencies are cross-border and Europe-wide. While acknowledging sector-specific measures, prevention and preparedness need to adapt accordingly and become multisector, multi-layered and pan-European.

Therefore, as required by the legal framework establishing the Union Mechanism 9 , the EU and the Member States have collectively identified five disaster resilience goals which address the areas where the need to strengthen Europe’s resilience to disasters and crises is the greatest. Such goals are a common baseline to support prevention and preparedness actions for disasters capable of causing multi-country transboundary effects. They are set out in a Commission recommendation 10  accompanying this Communication. Each with specific objectives, the goals set a common agenda to strengthen the EU’s collective capacity to withstand the impacts of future disasters, and to protect citizens, livelihoods and the environment.

The five goals are as follows:

1.Anticipate - Improving risk assessment, anticipation and disaster risk management planning;

2.Prepare - Increasing risk awareness and preparedness of the population;

3.Alert - Enhancing early warning;

4.Respond - Enhancing the Union Civil Protection Mechanism response capacity;

5.Secure - Ensuring a robust civil protection system.

Figure 1: The goals strengthen the disaster prevention-preparedness-response cycle

Ensuring a robust

civil protection



Enhancing the Union Civil Protection Mechanism response capacity


Enhancing early



Increasing risk awareness and preparedness of the population


Improving risk assessment, anticipation and disaster risk management planning


The disaster resilience goals strengthen the EU’s efforts to make resilience a new compass for EU policymaking. 11  The Commission’s Strategic Foresight Agenda and the disaster resilience goals share a common objective, namely placing resilience at the heart of EU policymaking. Both look at the future to inform present decisions, drawing upon research, scenarios, trends analysis and other tools to increase Europe’s resilience. The disaster resilience goals will therefore support the implementation of the Commission’s Strategic Foresight Agenda by translating an anticipatory approach to emergency management into concrete actions. While the primary responsibility lies with Member States, all layers of decision-making and society need to be involved to support resilience action.

Societal resilience depends on the cooperation of a number of actors with civil protection. In some cases, such as terrorism, war and other intentional threats, the mandate for prevention and preparedness measures lies with the wider emergency management system of each Member State. This includes the security forces and the military. While remaining specific to the area of civil protection, the disaster resilience goals complement and strengthen the EU’s toolbox for resilience in several domains.

Essential services such as energy, water and health provision, transport 12 and telecommunications are key to ensuring the well-being of people, as well as to the emergency response itself. These services need to remain operational during and after a disaster. Therefore, civil protection authorities should be closely engaged with efforts to strengthen the resilience for entities that operate critical infrastructure to deliver essential services. 13  Preparedness efforts must also take into account the increasing incidence of cyber-attacks, including emergency scenarios where cyber-attacks disrupt essential services. 

Preparedness for future pandemics and other health threats requiring attention at Union level has increased with the adoption of the EU Health Union and the establishment of the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA). The disaster resilience goals will contribute to strengthening the identification of serious cross-border threats to health. This includes measures to enhance surveillance and early warning, as well as stockpiling of medical countermeasures. 14  

In the event of trade restrictions or any other crisis impacting the free movement of goods, services and persons, as was the case during the COVID-19 pandemic, the proposed Single Market Emergency Instrument (SMEI), 15  includes a specific focus on disaster resilience. The new instrument would ensure the free flow and availability of crisis-relevant goods and services during an emergency impacting the Single Market, hence also supporting civil protection workers.

Investing in resilience unlocks social, economic and environmental benefits that outweigh the cost regardless of whether and when a disaster materialises. When investments integrate "smart" prevention features, the return on investment is highest. Such features include for instance multi-hazard early warning systems or nature-based solutions (green roofs, ponds, wetlands) to prevent heat islands, forest fires, and floods. For example, in Europe, extreme heat early warning systems save lives and are proven to bring more than 130 EUR in benefits for every 1 EUR spent 16 . Stronger synergies among the climate, environmental and civil protection communities can foster better prevention and yield benefits for both the population and the planet. The disaster resilience goals will facilitate such synergies and will contribute to the objectives of the European Green Deal, particularly on climate adaptation and biodiversity protection and restoration.

To promote investments that support resilience, the Member States should seize the wide support available from EU financing such as: the Resilience and Recovery Facility, Cohesion Policy Funds, Agriculture and Rural Development Fund, the LIFE programme, the Technical Support Instrument (TSI), and the EU Mission on Adaptation to Climate Change. Technical assistance support from the Union Mechanism is available to design “smart” prevention investments that will help protect citizens from disasters, adapt to climate change, avoid environmental degradation and advance the green transition. Private citizens and business in the EU are exposed to losses from climate-related disasters. The Climate Resilience Dialogue 17  identifies ways, for example through insurance, to cover climate-related risks. In addition, the EU’s classification system for sustainable investments (EU Taxonomy) helps channel private investment into economic activities that contribute to climate change adaptation and will include criteria for disaster risk management by emergency services.

Disaster resilience also depends on effective crisis management. The EU has been instrumental in ensuring that cross-sector and transboundary impacts from COVID-19, Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and other large-scale crises and emergencies are addressed. The Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) has developed into the EU’s operational crisis management hub. It now operates with enhanced anticipatory and analytical capacity, coordinating amongst sectors, and linking demand with response from Member States, third countries and private sector actors. Moreover, it works in coordination with the Integrated Political Crisis Response (IPCR) in the Council and, when facing security and consular crises outside the EU, also with the European External Action Service (EEAS) Crisis Response Centre. To deal with possible future crises, the ERCC will further strengthen its role as a central hub in a network linking all crisis management actors, respecting existing competencies and in line with the recommendations of the “Scientific Opinion on Crisis Management 18 .

Disasters may require the adoption of extraordinary emergency measures. While being a legitimate instrument, they need to be justified, limited in time, and proportionate. They need to have a solid legal foundation and allow for checks and balances to uphold the rule of law.