Overhaul for EU Solidarity Fund
Thanks to an overhaul of its special emergency fund - the EU Solidarity Fund - the European Union is now able to provide assistance for current and future members who suffer major disasters. The Commission is proposing a new Regulation that will broaden the scope and improve the operation of the Fund. These changes are a necessary response to growing threats from events such as acts of terrorism, epidemics and industrial disasters.
Proposal for a European Parliament and Council Regulation of 6 April 2005 establishing the European Union Solidarity Fund [COM(2005) 108 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
The Regulation proposed by the Commission aims to equip the EU to respond appropriately to a range of major disasters, including public health emergencies. Set to enter into force in January 2007, it will replace the legislation governing the current version of the EU Solidarity Fund (EUSF) (Regulation (EC) No 2012/2002).
The fund will now be able to channel emergency financial assistance to Member States and those countries currently negotiating EU membership. The use of the Fund to assist countries that are not (yet) Member States is based on a specific provision in the Treaty of Nice governing economic and financial cooperation with non-EU countries.
Scope of the Fund
The EU will provide financial assistance in cases where the extent of the damage caused by a disaster is such that it hampers a country's ability to respond effectively.
The current Regulation proposal broadens the scope of EUSF assistance, which has so far been limited to natural disasters. From now on, the EU will also be able to react to industrial and technological disasters, public health emergencies and acts of terrorism.
The extent of a disaster will be determined according to:
- a quantitative criterion, when the amount of direct damage is estimated to be either 1 billion or more (in 2007) or 0.5 % of the affected country's gross national income. This new threshold makes more cases eligible for aid from the Fund. Regional and local disasters causing damage at a level below this threshold are the responsibility of the Member State concerned, although they may be eligible for assistance from other Community funds;
- a political criterion, which will allow the Commission to propose the Fund be used for emergencies in cases where the material damage alone would not normally qualify for assistance. This is particularly useful for dealing with the consequences of acts of terrorism and epidemics.
Having a single fund focussing solely on large-scale disasters will ensure the aid is as effective as possible.
EUSF aid will be granted to finance emergency measures by public authorities or bodies in Member States.
- restoring essential infrastructure for power generation, water supplies and sewage, telecommunications, transport, health and education;
- immediate medical assistance and measures to protect against imminent health threats, mainly by providing drugs, medical products and vaccines;
- providing temporary accommodation and immediate disaster-relief measures for victims;
- setting up emergency preventive systems;
- emergency measures to protect the local culture and environment;
- emergency clean-up operations in the disaster area;
- medical, psychological and social assistance for direct victims of terrorism and their families
To receive aid, eligible countries must send a request to the Commission within ten weeks of the disaster.
The Commission will determine the appropriate amount of aid, which can never be more than 50 % of the total cost of the eligible operations, and ask the budgetary authority to release these funds. They can be paid as soon as the amounts have been entered in the Community budget and an implementation agreement concluded between the beneficiary country and the Commission.
There is also a new fast-track relief mechanism by which an advance of 5 % of the estimated amount (no more than EUR 5 million) can be paid for the most urgent measures.
Before 1 July every year, the Commission will present a report to the Parliament and the Council setting out the activities of the Solidarity Fund.
REFERENCES AND PROCEDURE