EU air bridge: hundreds of dedicated flights brought European citizens back home – EDJ News

The EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism

In addition to the EU member states, there are six participating countries in the EU Civil Protection Mechanism (CPM): Iceland, Norway, Serbia, Northern Macedonia, Montenegro, and Turkey. The program was set up in 2001 and since then more than 330 coordinated actions have taken place. If an emergency exceeds a country’s ability to respond, in essence the CPM is a mechanism from which it may request assistance. The CPM is a form of cooperation, best adapted to situations where a country knows what help it needs but cannot obtain it. In such cases assistance can be coordinated quickly and efficiently at EU headquarters.

Following a request through the Mechanism, the Emergency Response Coordination Center (ERCC) can mobilize assistance or expertise. The ERCC monitors such situations 24 hours a day and provides emergency support in cooperation with national civil protection authorities. Satellite maps produced by the Copernicus Emergency Management Service provide additional support for the operations. Copernicus provides geographical information (GIS) that is useful for mapping affected areas and planning disaster relief operations.

Any country in the world, even the United Nations and its agencies or an NGO, can request assistance via the CPM for help. The mechanism was used in the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa (2014) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2018), in the aftermaths of tropical cyclone Idai in Mozambique (2019), an earthquake in Albania (2019) and forest fires in Sweden (2018), Bolivia (2019), and Greece (2019).

The coronavirus has redefined the CPM

The coronavirus pandemic is a major challenge for the Civil Protection Mechanism. In this case there is not a state or a region that needs coordinated assistance, but rather each member state desperately trying to improve its situation, looking for stocks on an otherwise empty European market, or trying to develop its own production. But whether it is masks, tests, ventilators or medications, or even medical and nursing staff, the demand far exceeds the supply.

In principle, EU coordination is important in order to get stocks to where they are needed, in line with the flattening or rising of the epidemic curve in each member state. But states tend to be reluctant to give up hard-won assets, preferring to acquire new stocks from China, making cooperation more difficult. 

In this context, the benefits were mainly PR ones when Romanian and Norwegian medical teams went to Italy under the CPM, and when Austria sent 3,000 liters of disinfectant there. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, has repeatedly spoken out to direct aid where it is most needed, and called upon the member states “not to stockpile of medicines, to restrict online shopping, and not to order an export ban”.

Hungary has decided to the contrary twice. First, an export ban was imposed on chloroquine and its derivatives (which are also being tested for vaccines), and there was later another one on antibiotics, painkillers and sleeping pills .

Solidarity flights

In particular, the Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) has undertaken the largest operation in its history, that of repatriating Europeans from other countries. The system is relatively simple. One state decides to charter a plane back home from a non-EU country where otherwise this would be difficult or impossible. Typically half of the passengers are citizens of the country and the rest of the seats are filled with as many EU citizens as possible as a form of solidarity.

It takes a day or two to organize such a flight, meaning much coordination work was involved. And there were not just one or two planes, but by May 8, 269 such flights had departed, carrying more than 66,000 people. 

We collected relevant data from all flights based on the information from the European Commission so as to provide accurate information on which countries chartered how many flights and when, the number of passengers and their nationality, and whether non-EU citizens were on board too. It became clear which countries made most use of this opportunity, and which countries did not organize a flight, many preferring to request a lift on the departure plane.

The very first plane was launched by France on January 31 with 180 passengers – not surprisingly, from the starting point of the epidemic, Wuhan, China. Two days later, another French flight arrived from Wuhan, on which there were Hungarians. Seven left the city under quarantine.

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Text & Image Source: EDJNet – The European Data Journalism Network, distribute under CC BY 4.0 International licence.

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