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Community response to the flooding in central Europe
To draw up a list of the array of measures that can be taken directly and in the future, in particular the creation of an EU Disaster Relief Fund, to come to the aid of the Member States and applicant countries whose citizens suffer as a result of natural disasters in general and flooding in particular.
Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council - A solidarity-based initiative - The European Community response to the flooding in Austria, Germany and several applicant countries [COM(2002) 481 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
The flooding in central Europe in the summer of 2002 caused considerable damage. The cost in human terms and the damage to infrastructure and the natural and cultural heritage were particularly severe in Germany (EUR 15 billion), Austria (EUR 2 billion), the Czech Republic (EUR 2 to 3 billion) and Slovakia (EUR 35 million).
As a community of peoples, the European Union supports the victims and is doing everything it can to come to their aid. At a time when the Earth Summit on Sustainable Development was taking place in Johannesburg, events like these should also be the occasion to reflect on how such a disaster came to pass, and especially on the exceptional weather conditions and the impact man is having on the environment.
This communication describes briefly the action the European Commission has already taken or proposes to take to come to the aid of the Member States and applicant countries. The Commission is planning mainly to:
- reallocate existing resources using the possibilities offered by the rules governing the Structural Funds, the common agricultural policy (CAP) and aid to the applicant countries;
- establish a Disaster Relief Fund at Community level to respond to the consequences of major disasters by rapidly mobilising the necessary resources.
FINANCIAL MEASURES FOR MEMBER STATES
By modifying their development programmes, regions and Member States can:
- concentrate funds on flood-related measures in affected regions under ongoing operational programmes and single programming documents;
- introduce new measures to rebuild infrastructure and for productive investment in companies and training and employment schemes;
- shift funds from other measures and priorities to the appropriate existing or newly-created measures, including, where necessary, between funds.
Under the "n+2" rule, the Commission can automatically decommit funds for which no admissible application for payment has been submitted by the end of the second year following the year they were committed. However, Member States may, if the under-implementation is due to force majeure, make available again appropriations unused in the two years following commitment.
The Commission will make every effort to take the necessary decisions within the shortest possible time. It will look into the possibility of resorting to the performance reserve (4% of the funds allocated to each Member State) designed to reward the most deserving regions at the end of 2003.
Under the CAP, the Commission will accept:
- exceptions involving the use of set-aside land:
Where at least 33% of the area under fodder on a holding has been flooded, set-aside land may be used to feed livestock in some areas of Germany, Austria, Ireland and the United Kingdom;
- advances on direct payments:
Germany may grant 50% advances to affected producers up to 15 October 2002;
- the use of cereals from intervention stocks in Austria.
In cases of force majeure, specific arrangements apply making the conditions to be met for obtaining assistance more flexible, for example, regarding stocking densities and agri-environmental requirements. Higher rates of Community part-financing and exceptional changes to programmes can be considered.
Trans-European networks (TEN)
The funds that have not been allocated under the TEN-Transport and TEN-Energy budgets amount to EUR 11 million and EUR 5.9 million respectively. These could be used to support the reconstruction of TEN projects damaged by the floods in Germany and Austria. In addition, EUR 79.7 million is earmarked for Germany and EUR 14.4 million for Austria under the multiannual indicative programmes.
European Investment Bank (EIB)
The EIB is currently examining a proposal for the rapid implementation of a flood disaster relief plan. It would make loans totalling EUR 1 billion on favourable terms: with maturities of up to 30 years and, in exceptional circumstances, up to 100% of the cost of individual projects. Global loans to finance SMEs would be part of this aid plan.
FINANCIAL MEASURES FOR APPLICANT COUNTRIES
Instrument for Structural Policies for Pre-Accession (ISPA)
From unallocated ISPA 2002 funds the Commission will allocate EUR 48 million to the Czech Republic and EUR 28 million to Slovakia. The Commission will raise the ceiling on public aid to 75% and the Community contribution to 85% for projects in affected areas. In addition, the Commission will make available to both countries funds for technical assistance to finance damage assessment and the preparation of projects in full.
The Commission will make available to the Czech Republic an additional EUR 9.75 million from the Phare 2003 reserve.
Instrument for Agricultural Policies for Pre-Accession (SAPARD)
The Commission has made advances of EUR 5.5 million to the Czech Republic and EUR 4.6 million to Slovakia and may double them. It will propose raising the ceiling on public aid to 75% and on the Community contribution to 85%. Action to restore rural areas, where applicable with retroactive effect, will be eligible for Community support.
Compensation can be up to 100% of material damage. Individual aid is compatible with the aid programmes. Where major delays in production and delivery occur and a clear causal link between the flood and the damage can be established, full compensation is also possible.
Under the 'de minimis' rule, aid of up to EUR 100 000 over a three-year period is not subject to the Community State aid rules. Furthermore, public funding for basic infrastructure work such as roads and bridges is not covered by the State aid rules.
The rules for the award of contracts are more flexible in the event of natural disasters. They permit two exceptions to the standard procedure: competitive tendering with a shorter deadline and exemption from the requirement to publish a notice of contract.
COORDINATING AND PREVENTIVE MEASURES
During the flooding, full advantage was taken of the Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) for civil protection to channel information and coordinate assistance (pumps, vaccines). The SEVESO contact points were alerted about the situation of German and Austrian chemical plants.
The Commission will shortly adopt an integrated Community strategy to prevent natural risks.
A flood alert system
The Commission has developed a flood simulation system (LISFLOOD) providing forecasts between two and ten days in advance and simulations of the impact. The Commission will provide scientific back-up for a European flood warning system which will contain information about the main European catchment areas and have access to medium-term meteorological forecasts.
DISASTER RELIEF FUND
The Commission is proposing to create a new Disaster Relief Fund to assist regions in Member States and countries involved in accession negotiations which are victims of a major natural, technological or environmental disaster. In addition, the EIB may consider introducing a specific financial mechanism in addition to the Disaster Fund.
Aims, scope and operation of the Disaster Fund
The Fund would provide relief assistance to areas affected by a major disaster, independently of their status under the Structural Funds. The amount of support would be related to the scale of the disaster and could also take account of the prosperity of the region concerned.
With an initial allocation of EUR 500 million, the Fund would be used to:
- reconstruct infrastructure that has been destroyed, including electricity, water/waste-water, telecommunications, transport and social amenities;
- secure damaged preventive infrastructure such as dams and dikes.
Assistance from the Fund would be granted on request by the Member State as a global grant under a tripartite agreement between the Member State, the region and the Commission. The selection of projects would be a matter for the country and regions concerned.
The Commission recommends choosing the creation of a new flexibility instrument which would make it possible to observe the financial perspective for 2000-06. Putting this instrument in place would first require the revision of the interinsitutional agreement to establish the procedure for mobilising resources (between EUR 500 million and EUR 1 billion).
It will be necessary for the Council and the European Parliament, acting on a proposal from the Commission, to adopt a legal basis establishing the operational procedure and the criteria for implementing the mechanism. The new budget lines could then be entered under heading 2 (structural actions), 3 (internal policies) or 7 (pre-accession aids) of the financial perspective.
For further information, please consult the Commission's response to the recent flooding in central Europe.