EU plans pan-national firefighting fleet in response to wildfires

The European Union has agreed to speed up plans to establish a fleet of firefighting aircraft.

The move comes in the wake of yet another summer of extreme temperatures, with wildfires across much of the continent causing widespread damage.

Southern European countries such as Portugal and Greece experience fires most summers, but Germany and the Czech Republic also suffered large blazes this year, as hotter temperatures pushed fire risk north and into countries less equipped to cope.

At a meeting this week, the European Commission and ministers from EU countries agreed to explore an advanced purchase of EU-funded helicopters, the EU’s head of crisis management, Janez Lenarcic, said in a statement.

“At European level, we have reached our capacity limit. Some overwhelming fires in some member states did in fact not lead to a request for assistance because the countries concerned… knew that no capacities would have been available,” Lenarcic told the meeting.

The helicopter purchase will depend on extra EU funds being agreed in the bloc’s 2023 budget.

The EU had already planned to procure a fleet of crisis-response aircraft to cope with increasing climate-fuelled emergencies, but production was not expected until the second half of the decade.

This latest decision could bring that move forward.

The EU’s emergency resources currently involve coordinating and funding the deployment of 12 firefighting airplanes and a helicopter pooled by EU countries.

EU countries are responsible for responding to forest fires, and request EU assistance only when they need back-up. The bloc received 11 requests for assistance this year, up from nine in 2021.