The President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, assured President Anastasiadis that she would convey to the European Union the need to establish a base in Cyprus for rescEU, the European Civil Protection Mechanism, with the aim of upgrading firefighting and creating a European fire fleet which will be beneficial for both the Republic of Cyprus and the countries of the region.
It is noted that after the catastrophic fire in Solia, Cyprus found a way to purchase aircraft through rescEU. The Republic of Cyprus has submitted a formal request to the Commission both for the transitional period of implementation of the mechanism and for the full implementation of the mechanism. The request for the transitional period was submitted in 2020 and approved, as a result of which we have in Cyprus, during last summer season, two means of firefighting, through the mechanism with 75% EU funding. “Unfortunately, despite the documentation of the request submitted by Cyprus, the creation of an air fire base and the continuation of the presence of the two aircraft within the mechanism was not approved,” according to the official information of the Ministry of Agriculture.
The proposal of the Republic of Cyprus concerned the development of means within the framework of rescEU, with the aim of upgrading firefighting and the creation of a European fleet of firefighting aircraft. The rejection of this request by the Commission changed the plans of Cyprus and did not proceed with the procedures for leasing or renting four aircraft within 2020, as were the initial decisions, but only two Air Tractor aircraft.
The position of the Republic of Cyprus regarding the participation of Cyprus in the rescEU program is the creation of an air base in Cyprus, with the installation of four light aircraft type Air Tractor. Instead, the European Union wanted any base set up with Canadair.
It is noted that the European Union rejected the request of Cyprus, as it insisted that the fleet of firefighting aircraft for the zone of southern Europe (Mediterranean countries), will consist only of medium-type amphibious aircraft (eg Canadair), without the inclusion of any other aircraft type. Cyprus was subsequently requested to be the base for two Canadair medium-sized amphibious aircraft, but Brussels did not approve the request.
Cyprus' argument was based on six positions:
a) All the southern, Mediterranean countries of the European Union (Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Croatia, Greece) have been selected to be bases for aerial forest firefighting equipment. The only Mediterranean country in the European Union (and a member of the group of countries selected by the Commission as fire-prone countries), which has so far not been selected as a base and faces an equally important problem with forest fires, is Cyprus. This is a distinction and puts Cyprus at a disadvantage vis-έναν-vis other Mediterranean countries, as in the event of a major forest fire / crisis the time required for rescEU aircraft to fly to Cyprus from other countries will be much longer than the countries where they will maintain bases within themselves.
b) The invocation of the fact that Cyprus is far from other European countries and therefore the sending of aid to them, if required under rescEU, will take a long time, can not be an excuse for not choosing Cyprus as a base. In a hypothetical but realistic scenario in which the EU relied to decide on the type and number of aircraft to join rescEU, for two or three major fires to occur simultaneously, one in Western Europe, one in Central or Northern Europe and one in Eastern Europe, the rescEU means based in Cyprus will be able to travel in less than 24 hours to Greece, Italy or another Balkan country. Moreover, as long as it takes for aid to be sent to the above countries from Cyprus, the same time is required for Cyprus to receive aid from these countries.
(c) Both technically and operationally, the mixed fleet of aircraft, with the participation of light aircraft, medium aircraft and helicopters, is more efficient than a fleet consisting of only one aircraft type. Thus, the position of Cyprus for inclusion in the Mediterranean fleet of light aircraft creates the conditions for a more efficient fleet.
d) The cost of purchasing two Canadair aircraft will cost € 76 million. Four Air Tractor aircraft will cost € 10 million. In terms of water capacity, the two Canadair carries 12,000 liters of water which corresponds to four Air Tractors. The ratio of the maintenance costs of the two Canadair to four Air Tractors is 12: 1.
e) Acquisition of light aircraft (eg Air Tractor) can take place much earlier than acquisition of medium aircraft (eg Canadair), which are estimated to be acquired for rescEU membership after 2025. Therefore , the adoption of the Cyprus position will contribute to the faster activation of rescEU.
f) Despite the fact that the rescEU mechanism will prioritize sending aid to countries within the EU, the possibility of sending aid to third countries cannot be ruled out, something that has happened several times in the past. Cyprus, due to its geographical location, can send direct aid to countries such as Lebanon and Israel, as well as other neighboring countries.