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Brussels, 13 November 2002

Solidarity Fund : Commission proposes € 728 million for German, Austrian, Czech and French regions hit by flooding

The European Commission today proposed to grant € 728 million to help relieve damage caused by this summer´s heavy floods. The first use of the newly created European Union Solidarity Fund would free up € 444 million for Germany, € 134 million for Austria, € 129 million for the Czech Republic and € 21 million for France. The Solidarity Fund was set up in the space of three months to allow for rapid financial assistance in the event of a major disaster and is now fully in place. The Fund can be used, among other things, to restore vital infrastructure and equipment. Today's proposals require the approval of the European Parliament and the Council in their role as Budgetary Authority to allow the Commission to start the payments before the end of this year.

Budget Commissioner Michaele Schreyer commented on today´s first mobilisation of the Fund and the draft supplementary and amending budget: "This fund is a totally new political instrument of European solidarity in cases of damage caused by serious natural disasters. I am happy that we succeeded in setting up this instrument so quickly." Regional Policy Commissioner Michel Barnier, who will manage the Fund, said: "Over and above their simple financial impact, I am convinced that today's proposals show what Europe is really about: a supportive community that will help put back into working order hospitals, schools, bridges and roads in the member states and the candidate country affected by this summer's terrible floods." Günter Verheugen, Commissioner responsible for Enlargement, commented : "The contribution made from this Fund to relieve the destruction I witnessed in the Czech Republic is a clear demonstration of the solidarity that the candidate countries can further expect when they become EU Member States",.

The latest information shows that estimates of the overall damage in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic remain high, but less than initially estimated: total damage is now estimated at € 9 151 million in Germany, at € 2 939 million in Austria and € 2 341 million in the Czech Republic. France has submitted an application estimating flood-related damage at € 834.5 million.

Based on these revised estimates of the damage, the Commission is proposing grants totalling € 728 million, including € 444 million for Germany, € 134 million for Austria, € 129 million for the Czech Republic and € 21 million for France.

The Fund, which has a total volume of € 1 billion annually, can be used for:

  • Restoration to working order of infrastructure and plant in the fields of energy, water and waste water, telecommunications, transport, health and education.

  • Provision of accommodation and funding rescue services to meet the needs of the population concerned.

  • Securing of preventive infrastructures and measures for immediate protection of the cultural heritage.

  • Cleaning up of disaster-stricken areas, including natural zones.

Note for editors

Following the floods that hit central Europe during August 2002, it was decided to set up a new EU financial instrument to grant emergency aid to Member States and candidate countries in the event of major disasters.

The Commission proposed an Interinstitutional Agreement (between the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission), which would allow up to € 1 billion per annum to be made available over and above the appropriate headings of the financial perspective for emergency aid. It also proposed a Council Regulation establishing the European Union Solidarity Fund which contains the specific provisions and the conditions under which this Fund can be mobilised.

Political agreement on the proposals was reached between the Parliament and Council in conciliation on 22 October 2002. The Inter-institutional Agreement was adopted on 7 November and the legal base on 11 November 2002.

To qualify for funding, countries hit by a major disaster must give a precise appraisal of damage caused and fulfil specific criteria which ensure that EU funds are used where they are most needed. The Commission will be responsible for managing the Fund. A "major disaster" means any disaster resulting in damage estimated either at or above € 3 billion or more than 0,6 % of the gross national income of the state concerned.

Under exceptional circumstances, a region could also benefit from assistance from the Fund, where it has been affected by an extraordinary disaster, affecting a major part of its population, with serious and lasting repercussions on living conditions and the economic stability of the region. In this case, total annual assistance shall be limited to no more than 7,5 % of the annual amount available to the Fund. Particular focus will be on remote or isolated regions such as the ultraperipherical regions.

To ensure availability of the Fund at any time, at least one quarter of the annual amount should remain available on 1 October each year, in order to cover needs arising until the end of that year.

The regulation allows the Fund to be used retroactively for disasters since August of this year. Member States, Parliament and the Commission have declared on several occasions that financial aid from the Fund should be made available to the countries concerned as a matter of urgency.

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