As part of the European Union’s Digital Agenda, the EU is attempting to highlight a universal emergency telephone number, one that most Europeans haven’t a clue about.
The number, 112, unlike 118, won’t fetch you a camp double act in shorts and a vest. Nor will it charge you £7.00 a minute to book a nearby cab when you’re stranded in Peckham. It actually works throughout the 27 member states and will either put the caller into direct contact with emergency services or with an operator who will transfer them to the appropriate service.
The number has been in place for 20 years, but a Eurobarometer report showed that only 26 percent of Europeans were aware of it and the fact that they could call it from anywhere in the EU. In Greece, Italy and the UK awareness of the number was less than 10 percent, while citizens of Belgium, Hungary, Latvia, Poland and Slovakia were more up to date with the number.
112 does not replace national emergency numbers for most countries, but Denmark, Finland, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania and Sweden have adopted it as their national emergency number.
New laws were brought in for 112 in 2003, which requires EU member states to provide access to the 112 service free of charge from any phone, including payphones and mobile phones. These calls must be answered and dealt with promptly and countries must inform their citizens of the number. Further rules are set to come into force in May of this year, which are intended to improve the service and awareness of it.
The fact that nearly three quarters of Europeans don’t know the number is worrying and prompted the EC to launch European 112 Day, which is today, February 11. It’s clever because it’s the 11th of the second month. Get it? 11/2.
This was first launched in 2009, but despite the effort awareness has only grown marginally. Laws this year may force governments to better inform their citizens, probably not depending on a vote from inmates at Belmarsh.