Democracy & Justice

What is the Crisis Response Mechanism and How Does it Work?

It might feel like we jump from one crisis to another these days, and it’s important that our leaders are able to respond to each one effectively. That’s why the European Union created the crisis response mechanism.

by Jonathan Day

When a crisis happens, the European Union needs to be able to respond in a quick, effective, and coordinated manner. To make sure this is possible – regardless of whether the crisis natural or man-made, inside or outside the EU – the Union has established several crisis response mechanisms, including: the civil protection mechanism; the integrated political crisis response; the health emergency preparedness and response; the protection of network and information systems; and the protection of critical infrastructure response mechanism.

Of these, the integrated political crisis response mechanism, or IPCR, is perhaps the most important, as it can be used (or considered) to respond to a number of different crises the EU has faced recently. Given this, it is often referred to as “the crisis response mechanism”, despite there being several.

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What is the crisis response mechanism?

The integrated political crisis response (IPCR) mechanism supports rapid and coordinated decision-making by the EU for major and complex crises, including acts of terrorism. With the IPCR, the presidency of the Council of the EU is able to coordinate the EU’s political response to the crisis by bringing together all necessary bodies, including the EU institutions, affected member states, and expert groups and other relevant actors.

When is the crisis response mechanism used?

The crisis response mechanism was created after several crises made it clear that the EU needed a tool to help the Union and member states deliver a uniform political response to an ongoing crisis. The September 11th attacks, the bombings in Madrid (2004) and London (2005), and the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 are cited as important events that made clear the need for this mechanism.

The crisis response mechanism is used when the EU Council (made up of one minister from each of the 27 member states) or any member state deems it necessary to establish a political response to a crisis. The crisis itself does not need to be decidedly “political”: it could be a natural or man-made disaster, a health crisis (the crisis response mechanism was triggered in 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic), or a terrorist act or “crisis” related to migration.

How and by whom can it be activated?

The crisis response mechanism can be triggered by either the country that holds the rotating presidency of the EU Council, or by any member state invoking the solidarity clause (Article 222 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). These are the only actors that may trigger the IPCR, which is a dedicated tool of the Council and, given that the Council is made up of ministers of the member states, the member states themselves. It may not be triggered by the European Commission or European Parliament.

How does the crisis response mechanism work?

When the IPCR mechanism is triggered, it allows for a number of tools to be used to help assess and respond to a crisis by making information sharing easier, facilitating collaboration, and coordinating crisis response at the political level. These tools include:

- an informal roundtable, which is a crisis meeting chaired by the Presidency with key actors (representatives of the Commission, the EEAS, EU agencies, the most affected member states, the cabinet of the European Council President, experts, etc.);

- analytical reports to provide decision makers with a clear picture of the current situation;

- a web platform to exchange and collect information;

- and a 24/7 contact point to ensure constant liaison with key actors.

To help illustrate what the crisis response mechanism looks like in practice, let’s look at an example. In October 2015, the Luxembourg presidency decided to trigger the information sharing mode of the IPCR in response to the growing number of migrants coming to the EU. This mode was triggered in order to monitor the development of migratory flows, support decision-making, and better implement the agreed measures.

In November 2015, the presidency upgraded the activation of the IPCR mechanism to full mode. The mechanism has been in full mode since then. In this mode, the presidency was then able to organize roundtables with relevant stakeholders to discuss and coordinate the EU response to different migration matters, as well as the situation at various focal points, such as along the Poland-Belarus border.

How many operational modes does it have?

The crisis response mechanism has three operational modes, to be used depending on the situation. There is a monitoring mode to make the sharing of existing crisis reports between the members states, EU institutions, and other actors easier; there is an information-sharing mode, which is used to trigger the creation of analytical reports and the use of a dedicated internet platform to better understand the situation and prepare for a possible escalation; and a full activation mode, the most serious mode, which involves the preparation of proposals for EU action to be decided upon by the Council or European Council (the latter should not be confused with the Council of the EU; rather, it is the body that defines the overall political direction and priorities of the EU, composed of the heads of state or government of member states, the President of the European Council, and the President of the European Commission).

Crisis response mechanism in 2022: what to know about the current situation?

The crisis response mechanism is currently in full activation mode after being triggered by the French Presidency of the EU Council, which held the position until July 1st, 2022, in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It has also been used in the recent past by other EU Council presidencies, for example by the Croatian Presidency, which triggered the crisis response mechanism in January 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The IPCR is seen as an effective and important tool. The relative harmony and coordination with which the EU has been able to respond to Russia’s war against Ukraine – notwithstanding some tense negotiations – shows that the EU is able to “speak as one” during important crises, and the crisis response mechanism is seen as an important tool in this effort. And this is important for all of us – this coordination, agreement, and action makes the EU stronger, more unified, and safer for its citizens.

Photo credit:

Louise Viallesoubranne/Unsplash

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