Switzerland steps up cooperation with the EU in the fields of humanitarian aid and civil protection

Bern, 28.04.2017 - The frequency and magnitude of disasters have increased significantly in recent years. Switzerland and the EU have agreed to strengthen their cooperation in order to respond more effectively to emergencies in Europe and worldwide. On 28 April 2017, the two partners signed an administrative agreement to facilitate the exchange of information and best practices.

Effective coordination and exchange of information between states is critically important in the event of earthquakes, floods and technological disasters such as nuclear accidents. Since 2001 the EU has had a European civil protection mechanism that strengthens cooperation among the 28 member states in case of major incidents within and outside the EU. The mechanism also includes Liechtenstein, Iceland, Norway, Montenegro, Macedonia and Turkey. One of the advantages of this mechanism is that assistance is coordinated with the affected country, the United Nations and other international stakeholders.

Although Switzerland has concluded bilateral emergency aid treaties with all its immediate neighbours, it cannot join this mechanism because it is not part of the European Economic Area. This situation deprives Switzerland of an effective exchange of information with its European partners in the event of major disasters like the earthquake in Nepal in 2015 and more recently after Hurricane Matthew in Haiti in October 2016. Switzerland would face the same difficulties in the event of an earthquake or nuclear accident in a European country near its border.

Switzerland and the EU have therefore signed an administrative agreement that paves the way for closer cooperation in the field of humanitarian aid and civil protection, both in Switzerland and abroad. The agreement, which does not entail any financial or legal obligation for Switzerland, also provides for the exchange of best practices in the field of disaster prevention and response mechanisms.

The agreement was signed in Brussels by Manuel Bessler, Federal Council Delegate for Swiss Humanitarian Aid, Benno Bühlmann, Director of the Federal Office for Civil Protection, and Monique Pariat, EU Director-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO).

This agreement on civil protection is one of the items that have recently been approved following Parliament’s adoption of the ‘Stop Mass Immigration’ initiative. It was finalised after the visit by the President of the Swiss Confederation, Doris Leuthard, to Brussels.

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