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IP/04/313

Brussels, 9 March 2004

Solidarity Fund: Commission proposes EUR 21.9 million for measures related to natural disasters in Malta, France and Spain

Responding to requests made by the Maltese, French and Spanish authorities, the European Commission today proposed to mobilise the European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF) for grants totalling € 21.917 million to deal with disasters in several regions. The money will be used for reimbursing the cost of emergency measures such as rescue services, providing for temporary accommodation, energy and water and repairing basic infrastructure.

Michel Barnier, Commissioner responsible for regional policy and the Solidarity Fund, conveyed his sympathy to all the citizens in the affected regions. He said: "The Commission's proposal expresses the Union's solidarity with these regions and will notably serve to restore infrastructure and to reimburse the costs of emergency measures."

Commissioner Michaele Schreyer, responsible for the budget, added: "The Solidarity Fund is geared towards major disasters, as is the case with Malta, or those causing serious damages to regional economies, as was the case in France and Spain. I call upon the Council and Parliament to take their decision in order to allow the funds to rapidly reach the regions affected."

Following the Commission's proposal and after adoption by the European Parliament and the Council, the Solidarity Fund will be activated for the following disasters:

  • Storm and flooding in Malta. Heavy storms and flooding on 15 September 2003 caused severe disruption to economic activity including to fish farming installations at sea and damage to infrastructure and the natural environment throughout the islands of Malta and Gozo. The Commission considers that this disaster qualifies for aid under the "major disaster" criterion of the EUSF regulation. The total direct damage is estimated at € 30.172 million of which the Solidarity fund will contribute to compensate costs linked to emergency operations (emergency operations eligible for EUSF aid amount to € 11.3 million). In conformity with the rules of the Solidarity Fund the Commission proposes an amount of € 0.961 million to be granted.

  • Flooding in southern France. On 1 December 2003, severe flooding hit the southern Rhône river valley with the most serious damage concentrated in the three departments of Le Gard, Vaucluse and Bouches-du-Rhône, with a population of 295 000 inhabitants. Some 8 400 houses or apartments and private businesses were concerned including the flooding of the entire industrial zone of Arles with about 700 businesses. Public infrastructures have suffered severe damage in the fields of transport, provision of electricity and drinking water, telephone networks and schools.

    Total direct damage is estimated at € 785 million of which the Solidarity fund will contribute to compensate costs linked to emergency operations (emergency operations eligible for EUSF aid amount to € 131.6 million). The Commission considers that the flooding qualifies for aid under the "exceptional regional disaster" criterion of the EUSF regulation In conformity with the rules of the Solidarity Fund, the Commission proposes an amount of € 19.625 million to be granted.

  • Forest fires in Spain. During August 2003, the Spanish regions bordering on Portugal and located in the west of Extremadura, Andalusia and Castilla y Leon, suffered from a number of forest fires due to very high temperatures and low atmospheric humidity, which also caused the fires in Portugal this summer. Total direct damage from this disaster can be estimated at € 53.231 million. The Commission considers that a part of these fires qualify for aid under the "neighbouring country" criterion of the EUSF regulation which allows for an intervention of the Solidarity Fund when a region is hit by the same disaster as a neighbouring country. In conformity with the rules of the Solidarity Fund, the Commission proposes an amount of € 1.331 million to be granted.

For three other applications from Greece, France and Italy, the Commission concludes that these do not meet the conditions set out by the regulation for mobilising the Solidarity Fund.

To enable a quick decision by Council and the European Parliament, the Commission has also adopted today the corresponding proposal to mobilise the Solidarity Fund and a proposal for an amending budget. The amending budget amounts to the € 21.917 million described above. It does not request fresh funds to be financed as the sum necessary can be found within the budget 2004. Commissioner Schreyer will present this proposal to Council and Parliament at the forthcoming budget trilogue on 16 March and a decision could be taken by the end of April at the latest.

Background

Following the floods which hit central Europe in August 2002, it was decided to create a new EU instrument for granting emergency aid to the Member States and acceding countries in the event of a major disaster. Based on Commission proposals for a Council Regulation establishing a European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF) and an inter-institutional agreement between the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission, the legal and budgetary instruments were agreed in November 2002. A maximum of € 1 billion can be made available through the EUSF per annum.

To qualify for aid under the Solidarity Fund, countries hit by a major disaster must provide a precise estimate of the damage and meet specific criteria, ensuring that EU funds are used to meet the most urgent needs. A "major disaster" is an event causing damage estimated at over € 3 billion or more than 0.6% of the gross national income of the state concerned. Under exceptional circumstances and conditions, a region can also benefit from assistance from the fund.

For more information please consult the following website:

http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/funds/solidar/solid_en.htm


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