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Last Updated: Monday, 27 August 2007, 22:37 GMT 23:37 UK
EU mulls 'natural disaster' force
By Alix Kroeger
BBC News, Brussels

Fire consumes hillside forests in Taygetos, southern Peloponnese, Greece
New fires continue to break out around Greece
The European Commission will put forward proposals this autumn for a standing EU force to respond to fires, floods and other major emergencies.

The commission says the current system has its limits.

In 2007, there has been flooding in the UK, a heat wave in central and southern Europe, and now forest fires in Greece, in which at least 60 people have died.

But critics say the EU should release financial aid faster, rather than set up a civil protection force of its own.

'Better way'

When Greece appealed for help in fighting its forest fires, nine EU countries responded within 48 hours.

Rails damaged by floods in Oxfordshire (Pic: Network Rail)
It could be a year before Britain gets any EU aid

Germany sent helicopters, Austria deployed firefighters, and France contributed two specialist water-tanker planes.

Italy even diverted another specialist plane from forest fires in Sicily to join the operation in Greece.

The European Commission says it is too early to put any figures on how much the EU relief effort in Greece has cost.

The commission is currently co-ordinating relief efforts through its monitoring centre in Belgium.

But it is now looking at setting up a permanent civil protection force to respond to natural disasters, and possibly also terrorist attacks and industrial accidents.

"The costs of not doing enough in a co-ordinated way far outweigh the costs of doing it... in a co-ordinated, better way," says commission environment spokesperson, Barbara Helfferich.

"We are in a position to do so and we should do it," she says.

'Token gesture'

But critics say the EU should concentrate on releasing emergency funds, rather than creating a force of its own.

"To talk about setting up a force or some sort of unit to go and react to these sort of disasters... I think is really putting the cart before the horse," says Philip Bradbourn, a British Conservative MEP for one of the regions badly hit by July's floods.

"It really is very much of a token gesture - what's needed is quick action when these disasters occur, with money to help the member states to get over the problems."

Mr Bradbourn says it will be at least a year before his constituency receives any EU aid.

Fires prompt Greek appeal to EU
25 Aug 07 |  Europe
Europe bakes in summer heatwave
25 Jul 07 |  Europe
Hungary heatwave kills hundreds
24 Jul 07 |  Europe

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