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Brussels, 13 May 2009

Commissioner Danuta Hübner meets Silvio Berlusconi and visits the Abruzzi earthquake zone

On 14 May in Rome, Danuta Hübner – the Commissioner responsible for Regional Policy – is to meet the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, in order to discuss the situation following the earthquake which devastated the Abruzzi region in April of this year. She will then travel to the earthquake zone in order to assess the damage and to discuss the scope for EU support with the Regional President, Giovanni Chiodi.

Speaking ahead of her visit, Mrs Hübner said: 'Europe stands by all the earthquake victims and their families. The European Commission is determined to provide support in every way possible and will direct the money available towards helping the victims, assisting the local economy and putting right the damage suffered by the landscape.'

On Thursday, 14 May at 4 p.m. in Rome, Mrs Hübner will meet Silvio Berlusconi for talks at Palazzo Chigi. She will then travel to the Abruzzi region, where she will be met by the Regional President, Giovanni Chiodi. On Friday, 15 May, after viewing the disaster area from the air, Mrs Hübner – guided by representatives of Italy's civil-defence force – will visit L'Aquila town centre in order to assess needs. Accompanied by Claudio Scajola (Minister for Economic Development) and Andrea Ronchi (Minister for Community Policies), she will tour one of the camps (Tendopoli di Campo Globo) which provide shelter for the victims.

Drawing on the European Union Solidarity Fund

The Italian authorities have 10 weeks (i.e. until 15 June) in which to submit an application to the Commission for assistance from the European Union Solidarity Fund. They are currently preparing such an application in close cooperation with the relevant Commission department. The Solidarity Fund may be called upon once a certain threshold has been reached (set in Italy's case at EUR 3.4 billion-worth of damage). The Commission will then consider the application and check that it fully meets all the criteria; if it does, the Commission will assess the amount of aid that can be made available. In order for the funding to be released, the Commission will then have to ask the two bodies (the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union) which jointly exercise budgetary authority to adopt an amending budget to be incorporated into the Community budget.

The EU aid may be used to finance the most urgent measures: providing temporary accommodation for the victims, repairing essential infrastructure (power stations, water-supply networks, roads) and clearing land and devastated villages. Measures will be selected jointly by the Commission and the Italian authorities before the aid is released. Damage to private property will not be covered by the above arrangements.

Other resources available

The Abruzzi regional programme (supported by the Structural Funds in the 2007-2013 period and allocated EUR 140 million from the European Regional Development Fund – ERDF) may also provide aid by financing – for example – repairs to public buildings or by funding measures to support local jobs (see MEMO/08/447). In L'Aquila, Mrs Hübner will visit the Dompé pharmaceutical company's laboratories and also the EDIMO company, which is responsible for constructing prefabricated buildings. These two companies could soon be recipients of Community aid under the ERDF programme.

Furthermore, Mrs Hübner has announced that, in view of the special circumstances, the 30 June 2009 deadline for submitting payment applications to the Commission under the previous Abruzzi programme (covering the 2000-2006 period) is to be extended until 30 June 2010. This will make it easier for the region to use up 'every last cent' of the ERDF investment amounting to EUR 193 million (IP/09/738).

Note to publishers

The European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF), which was set up in 2002, allocates emergency aid to Member States and applicant countries which have been struck by a major natural disaster. Its annual budget is EUR 1 billion.

Under similar circumstances, Italy was granted aid from the European Union Solidarity Fund in the wake of the series of earthquakes which occurred in the Molise and Apulia regions in 2002. On that occasion it received EUR 30.8 million.

It may be recalled that, on 6 April 2005, the Commission presented a proposal for a revised Regulation laying down simpler, clearer criteria which would enable the EUSF to be brought into play more rapidly (and, in particular, enable advances to be paid). The proposal was warmly welcomed by the European Parliament but has yet to make any headway within the Council – i.e. at Member State level (see MEMO/05/111).

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