European Union External Action

Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) - Meeting of Experts on Assistance, Response and Preparedness (MX4) - Key EU messages

Geneva, 07/08/2019 - 00:00, UNIQUE ID: 190807_3
Statements on behalf of the EU

Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) - Meeting of Experts on Assistance, Response and Preparedness (MX4) - Geneva, 6-7 August 2019 - Key EU messages

Mr. Chair,

I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union. The Candidate Countries Turkey, the Republic of North Macedonia*, Montenegro*, Serbia*, and Albania*, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Ukraine and Georgia align themselves with this statement.

Let me express our appreciation to you for chairing this Meeting of Experts on Assistance, Response and Preparedness and assure you of the EU’s and its Member States’ full support.

 

I would like to take this opportunity to share some examples of the EU’s recent efforts relevant for our discussions on Article VII of the BTWC with regard to assistance, response and preparedness.

EU’s response to counter the Ebola epidemic

The EU has been assisting countries on the frontline since the beginning of the Ebola epidemic in 2018, providing financial support, experts, the use of the EU’s humanitarian flight service to deliver supplies and personnel to various Ebola hotspots, and activated the Union Civil Protection Mechanism. The EU has also supported the health sector in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as well as Ebola vaccine development and research on treatments and diagnostic tests. The Ebola situation has been regularly discussed in the EU’s Health Security Committee and we have put in place a MedEvac (medical evacuation) system for international humanitarian and medical workers together with the World Health Organization (WHO).

As the deadly Ebola virus outbreak in the DRC continues, with the first three cases being detected in Goma (a city of two million persons bordering Rwanda) and in Uganda, the EU has announced further emergency funding. Additional € 30 million euros have been announced to support the fight against Ebola in the DRC and for overall humanitarian support in Ebola affected and high at risk areas. Also, additional €3.5 million have been provided for preparedness measures, of which €2.5 million is for Uganda and €1 million for South Sudan.

The aid package will strengthen rapid detection and reaction to Ebola cases, and comes on top of the €17 million in EU funding for Ebola response since 2018 in the DRC and prevention and preparedness actions in Uganda, South Sudan, Rwanda and Burundi. The EU continues to monitor the development of the outbreak in DRC and the prevention and preparedness readiness levels in neighbouring countries, while support is provided through EU humanitarian funding as well as the Union Civil Protection Mechanism.

We are in constant contact with the WHO, national authorities, other donors in the response, and partner organisations to channel our support.  In co-ordination with other international donors and in line with the WHO’s Regional Strategic Ebola Response and Preparedness Plans, EU funding is contributing towards the following measures:

  • strengthening of disease surveillance at community level, health facilities and points of entry (border crossing points);
  • training of rapid response teams;
  • training of healthcare and frontline workers on contact-tracing, infection prevention and control measures, psychosocial support, and safe and dignified burials;
  • local capacity-building by equipping medical treatment facilities; and
  • community awareness-raising.

We are committed to continuing our assistance to bring this outbreak to an end. Our collective aim should be to engage with local communities and to strengthen the health system for rapid detection and reaction. This includes the reinforcement of preparedness and prevention measures in neighbouring countries to avoid a spill-over of the Ebola outbreak. Experience in responding to such natural outbreaks is applicable also to efforts to make Article VII of the BTWC operational: a resilient health system to stop naturally occurring outbreaks of infectious disease has some of the same attributes as those needed to prevent, detect and respond to the deliberate use of a biological agent.

Operationalisation of Article VII on assistance, response and preparedness

At the Eighth Review Conference in 2016 and the subsequent meetings thereafter, a large majority of States Parties supported further operationalisation of provisions under Article VII of the BTWC in order to enhance our collective preparedness to provide and coordinate assistance upon request by a State Party in the case of alleged use of biological or toxin weapons. We welcome any proposals continuing to operationalize Article VII.

In this context, we highlight the many practical proposals already put forward, including by France and India on the establishment of an Article VII assistance database, by South Africa on guidelines to States Parties for seeking assistance under Article VII, and the latest proposal by the UK on: Core Elements for an Effective Article VII Response: the need for an international coordinating body, which follows the joint working paper by the Russian Federation and the UK to the 2018 MSP. We encourage all States Parties to study these proposals in a constructive spirit with a view to allowing their early endorsement by consensus ahead of the Ninth Review Conference and thus ensuring a timely and adequate international response to possible situations involving the implementation of Article VII provisions.

We welcome also other initiatives aimed at operationalising Article VII such as the tabletop exercise to be organised by the BTWC ISU and Fondation pour la recherche stratégique with the support from France on 8-9 August 2019 in Geneva.

EU Council Decision (CFSP) 2019/97 in support of the BTWC

On 21 January 2019, a new EU Council Decision in support of the BTWC was adopted with the aim to follow up in particular to the project activities undertaken under the previous EU Council Decision in 2016-2018. One project will directly relate to Article VII of the BTWC, entitled ‘Preparedness of State Parties to prevent and respond attacks involving biological agents’.

Within this project, experts from EU Member States and relevant international organisations will provide training courses, table top exercises and national or sub-regional workshops with a view to increasing national and regional resilience against the misuse of biological agents and the States’ capacity to prevent and respond to such attacks. Partnerships will be sought with third countries for hosting of such training courses and for the use of required facilities. The project will encourage States Parties to foster the creation of regional networks in their regions or sub-regions to improve both their collective preventive measures and their coordinated response to a potential biological weapons attack. The project will also include an initial expert workshop in Geneva to explore needs in relation to the implementation of Article VII of the BTWC and to design activities to meet those needs.

With this project, the EU will:

  • contribute to strengthening implementation of Article VII, and to better understanding the challenges facing implementation;
  • provide substantive input to the BTWC Meetings of Experts;
  • contribute to the strengthening of international response capabilities for infectious disease outbreaks, whether natural or deliberate in origin;
  • strengthen capacities in selected States Parties for detecting, reporting and responding to outbreaks of infectious disease or biological weapons attacks, including in the areas of preparedness, response, and crisis management and mitigation;
  • promote the importance of strong national health systems as a deterrent against the potential use of biological weapons;
  • contribute to a strengthened capacity under the UN Secretary-General’s Mechanism for Investigation of Alleged Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons.

EU CBRN Centres of Excellence Initiative

Since 2010 the EU has sought to mitigate chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) risks in third countries through the EU CBRN Centres of Excellence Initiative. It is the EU’s largest civilian external security programme, financed through the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace, with a budget of EUR 130 million for the years 2014-2020. Eight regional secretariats have been set up, with the involvement of more than 60 countries.

I would like to draw your attention in particular to the creation of an Epidemiology Training Programme (MediPIET) – a training and capacity development programme developed under the EU CBRN Centres of Excellence Initiative - where 18 countries around the Mediterranean and the Black Sea are working together to foster a two year long fellowship programme to respond to biological risks under scientific guidance of the European Centre for Diseases Prevention and Control (ECDC).

It is important that national capabilities be developed in a coordinated manner to response to biological threats regardless of their nature. This is the precise purpose of CBRN national and regional action plans which we continue to advocate and support: to establish a consolidated national strategy for strengthening a country’s capacity to counteract CBRN risks, whether natural, unintended or deliberate in origin. Such integrated plans will enable capacity building projects to be tailored according to a country’s needs and also facilitate donor coordination. I have highlighted three of our projects in the framework of the EU CBRN Centres of Excellence Initiative in my intervention under MX1, but let me here mention another project currently in preparation in the South East Asia region, namely on promoting biosecurity to enhance awareness on dual-use and storage of biological materials and capacity-building on bio-forensics. Let me also recall an awareness raising meeting on biosafety and biosecurity issues that was conducted on 9-10 April 2018 in Islamabad, for 40 Pakistani Experts from relevant CBRN agencies.

Building rescEU reserve for medical emergencies and CBRN incidents

In March this year, the EU enhanced the Union Civil Protection Mechanism, including through creation of rescEU. RescEU sets the basis to develop a reserve of additional capacities at EU level to respond to natural and man-made disasters. Such capacities initially include aerial firefighting means, but discussions are already ongoing on extending the reserve to other areas such as aerial medical evacuation, mobile hospitals and capacities to respond to CBRN incidents, including CBRN decontamination and CBRN detection, monitoring and surveillance capacities.

RescEU further strengthens the European civil protection system to face current and emerging risks and in this way it contributes to the implementation of Article VII through the enhancement of EU’s preparedness and response capabilities for medical emergencies and CBRN incidents. Further information will be provided in a technical presentation that will be given by a representative of the European Commission during this session.

Health security framework within the EU

Our overall approach to health security includes a policy framework to improve EU preparedness and coordinate responses to health emergencies caused by biological, chemical, environmental or unknown origin, under EU Decision 1082/2013/EU on serious cross-border threats. Under this umbrella, the EU is currently initiating a Joint Action – that is, a collaborative action between Member States co-funded by the European Commission – which aims to strengthen the EU’s health preparedness and response to biological and chemical terror attacks. In addition, there is work undertaken by Member States and co-funded by the Commission, which seeks to improve EU bio-security, bio-risk management and EU laboratory capacity, especially for those specialised in highly pathogenic or newly emerging pathogens. Finally, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control supports work related to bio security and collaborates with relevant security agencies, such as EUROPOL, on these issues.

In general, we emphasize the importance of strengthening of surveillance, detection and response capacities of national health systems to enhance preparedness for consequences of deliberate bio-events.

Thank you, Mr Chair

 

* The Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.