EPSU meets DG ECHO on 7 September 2023
(22 September 2023) On September 7th, 2023, EPSU met with the European Commission's Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO).
The meeting brought together key representatives to discuss the pressing need for improved coordination of joint firefighting operations. The EPSU delegation included Thibaut Rappe (CSC Services Publics, Belgium), Mikael Svanberg (Kommunal, Sweden), Yvonne Gräsman (Kommunal, Sweden) and Paola Panzeri and Pablo Sanchez from the EPSU secretariat. The Commission was represented by Hans Das, Director at ECHO A - Emergency Management and RescEU; Hanna Jahns, Director at ECHO B - Disaster Preparedness and Prevention, and two advisors.
The primary focus of the meeting was to address vital aspects related to the organisation of joint firefighting operations and RescEU. EPSU underlined the importance of harmonising and coordinating equipmentm training, education and competencies for firefighters. These elements are essential for ensuring efficient joint response to natural disasters.
DG ECHO expressed full agreement with the comments made by the EPSU representatives, highlighting the common ground and shared concerns. However, EPSU urged DG ECHO to elevate these issues to the political table, emphasising the need for a top-down approach that aligns with the bottom-up pressure exerted by EPSU. Such collaboration between policymakers and grassroots organisations is pivotal for driving meaningful change.
The meeting highlighted the critical timing of these discussions. The ongoing climate crisis creates a unique political momentum and heightened public awareness regarding the need to address disaster preparedness and response. This presents a perfect moment to act swiftly and decisively to improve joint firefighting operations.
After the discussions, the EPSU delegation also visited the emergency control room, gaining valuable insights into the agency's operations and where real-time monitoring and coordination efforts play a pivotal role in managing humanitarian aid and disaster response.
The meeting between EPSU and DG ECHO represents a significant step towards collaboration in supporting firefighting operations across Europe. In the face of evolving climate-related challenges, these dialogues and actions are crucial in ensuring the safety and well-being of communities throughout the continent.
A few days later, representatives from EPSU, CGT- Services Publics and CFDT-Interco met in Strasbourg to lobby on the oral question that the EMPL committee of the European Parliament was presenting to the European Commission. The oral question raised several key questions to the Commission:
1. How will the Commission, jointly with Member States and social partners, ensure the protection of firefighters and their working conditions, including compensation for overtime? Will the Commission take further action following WHO’s recognition of firefighting as a carcinogenic occupation?
2. Will the Commission undertake to consider, following a consultation with social partners, putting forward an EU proposal on minimum standards for firefighters’ personal protective equipment, training, awareness-raising and operating procedures e.g. medical surveillance and decontamination?
3. Will the Commission consider more investments in new research and technology in the sector and how does it plan to ensure victims’ protection from secondary exposure?
4. Following the Matzak judgement, in view of the large number of volunteer firefighters (3.2 million) in the EU and the need to increase firefighter numbers in the future, how does the Commission intend to safeguard this voluntary commitment in Europe without calling Directive 2003/88/EC into question?
5. Will the Commission consider setting up a European register to collect data on occupational diseases disaggregated by sector?
EPSU will continue to follow up on the issue of staffing levels, climate change, decontamination and exposure that had been raised in the last few days both in Brussels and Strasbourg.