In recent years the European Union has taken a number of steps towards improving civil protection cooperation in Europe. European leaders regularly declare the importance of boosting cooperation to prepare for and respond to disasters and emergencies afflicting member states. Those declarations have been accompanied by a flourish of policy activity, the building of new structures, and even treaty changes. On the surface, this little-known area of European integration appears to be proceeding with great success. A closer look, however, reveals significant gaps between member states’ general expressions of enthusiasm and problematic cooperation in practice. We draw upon public goods theory to explain why this might be the case; more specifically, we identify likely game-theoretic obstacles to cooperation in different areas of the civil protection field. We evaluate our theoretical propositions by examining the current state of cooperation in marine pollution response, chemical contamination management, and flood response. We find that cooperation success in practice corresponds generally, but not perfectly, with the predictions of public goods theory. Our findings offer a nuanced view of civil protection cooperation in Europe and illuminate options for improved cooperation in the future.