Copenhagen, 12 December 2002
Solidarity Fund: Euro 134 million for the regions in Austria hit by the disastrous flooding earlier this year
Michel Barnier, Commissioner for regional policy, and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the Austrian Foreign Minister, have today signed in Copenhagen an agreement involving € 134 million in assistance for the regions affected by the floods last August. This is one of the first four aid packages paid for out of the European Union Solidarity Fund. This Fund, proposed by the Commission in September, has been set up within three months with a view to providing quick and unbureaucratic EU assistance after major disasters, in particular natural disasters. The sums being allocated to Austria are to serve, among other things, for reimbursing some of its expenditure on the short-term repair of damaged transport infrastructure and water-supply plant, the securing of river-management facilities, essential supplies to the stricken populations, safeguarding of cultural heritage and the general clean-up in the affected areas.
Michel Barnier, responsible for regional policy and administering the Solidarity Fund, said: "This Fund is an expression of Europe-wide solidarity on which every country and all European citizens can count in the event of major natural disasters. Europe is making clear that it supports its citizens unreservedly, not least in very serious situations." Commissioner Michaele Schreyer, responsible for budget, said : "The 134 million € from the EU-Budget represent a major support effort in favor of Austria. They are a very tangible sign of the solidarity of the EU."
Payments from the Fund will start to flow immediately following signature by the Austrian Government and the Commission.
The € 134 million will be used in particular to help the Länder of Styria, Lower Austria, Vorarlberg, Vienna, Upper Austria, Tyrol and Salzburg.
After the serious flooding in Central Europe in August 2002, it was decided to create a new EU financial instrument in order to support Member States and candidate countries in the event of large-scale disasters.
The Commission proposed an Inter-institutional Agreement (involving Parliament, Council and Commission) in order to make € 1 billion available each year under the appropriate headings of the financial perspective for immediate assistance in such cases. It also submitted a proposal for a Council Regulation setting up a Solidarity Fund of the European Union to define the detailed terms and conditions on which claims on the Fund would be met.
The political agreement of Parliament and the Council was secured on 22 October using the conciliation procedure. The Inter-institutional Agreement was adopted on 7 November, the Regulation on 11 November.
Countries asking for assistance from the Fund are required to send in a provisional estimate of the damage suffered and to fulfil various criteria in order to guarantee that the resources are applied where they are most urgently needed. A major disaster is deemed to be one which causes damage estimated at over € 3 billion or more than 0.6% of the GDP of the country concerned.
In exceptional cases, assistance can also be given to regions in which the majority of the population is affected by a serious disaster and there are serious and lasting consequences for the living conditions and economic stability of the area. In such cases the money available per year is limited to at most 7.5% of the annual envelope of the Fund. Particular account is to be taken of isolated regions, peripheral regions and the outermost regions of the Union.
To ensure that the Fund's resources are available at all times and potential requirements can be met right up to the end of a given year, a quarter of the annual envelope of the Fund must still remain on 1 October each year.
The Regulation also provides for using the Fund retroactively to deal with the consequences of disasters, which have occurred since August 2002. The Member States, Parliament and the Commission have stressed several times that the support from the Fund must reach the countries concerned as quickly as possible.
The Fund, with an annual envelope of € 1 billion, can be used for the following purposes:
Following the flood disasters in the summer of 2002, four countries are to be supported by the Solidarity Fund: as well as Austria, these are the Czech Republic, Germany and France.
For more information, see also IP/02/1686 of 15 November 2002