The European Union regretted that it failed to provide any support to Portugal against the fires of October 2017, when Lisbon appealed desperately for help.

“One of the most painful situations in my life was to have no response to Portugal,” the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, Crisis Management and Civil Protection, Christos Stylianides, told Portuguese journalists this Monday (8th July 2019) in Madrid, who described those “difficult times” between October 15 and 17, 2017, which killed 50 people and burned more than 50,000 hectares.

It is noteworthy that Portugal launched an appeal to Brussels on Sunday, October 15, for air support to the various fires in the centre and north of the country, but only on Wednesday, October 18, the first aircraft arrived.

The Cypriot commissioner said that he had telephoned each of the leaders with the protection of the Civil Protection of the countries of the European Union, but that some responded that they needed their resources in their own countries and that others admitted they had not mobilised them at that time. “My anguish at the responses of the other ministers, saying they had no air assets …,” he lamented.

Also in Madrid, where he explained the partnership of the Emergency Response Coordination Center (CEMR) with the Spanish authorities, Johannes Luchner, Director of the Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations Office of the European Union (DG ECHO), – the congener European Commission of the National Authority for Emergency and Civil Protection (ANEPC) – assumed that “in 2017 we did not have enough means”. “I was not going to forget it,” he said.

Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission (EC), lamented at the time the lack of solidarity with Portugal when it learned of the denials received by the then Minister of Internal Affairs, Constança Urbano de Sousa.

In a debate on the European Council in Strasbourg a week later, Juncker turned away from the main subject to address the Portuguese tragedy: “It is not normal that when a fire is declared on a Sunday morning in Portugal, we have to wait until Wednesday “We have to speed up the process.”

“It is obvious, necessary and basic that the European Union should come to the aid of those who are suffering. That is why I have commissioned Commissioner Stylianides to reflect, within a month, and in any case until the end of the year, on the in a new articulation of our civil protection mechanisms that are not working at a hundred percent, “he said.

By October 2017, Portugal had already dispensed part of its aerial fire-fighting facilities, some of them having terminated the contracts, others because the fires occurred when the device was no longer at a level that allegedly justified having aircraft ready.

The RescuEU system gained momentum not only with the fires in Portugal during 2017 but also with those that occurred in Greece in 2018, where 102 people died

The EU subsequently strengthened its response capacities through the following measures:

  • Establish, in collaboration with Member States, a common European reserve of capacities to respond to disasters. Such capacities would include firefighting planes, as well as other means to respond to situations such as medical emergencies or chemical biological radiological and nuclear incidents;
  • Co-finance the operational costs of rescEU capacities when used for the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism operations;
  • Co-finance the development of rescEU capacities;
  • Increase financial support for capacities registered in the European Civil Protection Pool, including for adaptation, repair, operational costs (inside the EU) and transport costs (outside the EU).