Brussels, 8 April 2008
The European Commission is proposing a grant for Greece from the European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF) totalling € 89.7 million to offset part of the costs incurred after devastating forest fires during the summer of 2007. This proposal to the Budget Authority (European Parliament and Council) will result in funding being made available as soon as the Authority agrees. The grant will be used to reimburse the cost of emergency measures such as rescue services, the provision of temporary housing, the cleaning up of disaster-stricken areas and the restoration of basic infrastructures to working condition.
Danuta Hübner, European Commissioner responsible for the Solidarity Fund, said: “I had the opportunity to see the horrific fire damage in Greece for myself, so I know the scale of the needs. Last year we had several major natural disasters in Europe, devastating the lives of people both in the north and the south. We had many calls for assistance from the European Solidarity Fund, after storm Kyrill in Germany, and disastrous floods in the UK, as well as from Greece. . Let's act on the lessons learnt: I hope Member States will finally take on board the Commission’s 2005 proposal to improve the Solidarity Fund with the European Parliament's support. We proposed measures that would allow advance payments and mobilise the funds more quickly. Last year showed us just how much we need these improvements."
In summer 2007, a large part of Greece was affected by forest fires. They were most intense and widespread in Western Greece, the Peloponnese, Continental Greece and Attica. The disaster caused major damage to the economy and to basic infrastructure and the environment. Substantial costs were incurred for providing temporary accommodation and funding rescue services to meet the immediate needs of the population concerned. There were 65 deaths in the Peloponnese, in Western Greece and in Evvoia as a result of the fires.
Today's proposal to mobilise a grant of € 89.7 million requires the Budget Authority to adopt an amending budget. The Commission and the Greek authorities will then sign a financing agreement.
The EU Solidarity Fund, created in 2002, grants emergency aid to Member States and countries involved in accession negotiations in the event of a major natural disaster. Its annual allocation amounts to € 1 billion. To qualify for aid under the Solidarity Fund, countries must provide a documented estimate of the damage which is examined by the Commission in the light of specific criteria. On 6 April 2005, the Commission adopted a proposal for the new and improved EU Solidarity Fund (for 2007-2013), which would cover disasters other than those arising from natural catastrophes and with improved eligibility criteria and delivery mechanisms (see MEMO/05/111). This proposal is pending in the European Parliament and the Council.
The Commission has taken other measures to help Greece in its reconstruction effort under Cohesion policy. Under the previous programming period (2000-2006), a one year extension of the eligibility deadline, originally fixed to 2008, has been granted for the regional programmes of Western Greece, Peloponnesus, Attica and Continental Greece and for the thematic programmes entitled “Road axes, ports, urban development” and “railways, airport, urban transport”.