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Brussels, 29 September 2010

The Commission proposes assistance of 35.6 million euros for France to tackle the legacy of Storm Xynthia

The European Commissioner for Regional Policy, Johannes Hahn, today presented the European Commission's proposal of 35.6 million euros of assistance for France to tackle the legacy of Storm Xynthia, which hit the country in February 2010. This assistance will help pay for emergency measures, in particular the repair of basic infrastructure, temporary housing, the intervention of the emergency services and cleaning up the damaged areas. The European Parliament and the Member States have still to approve the proposal.

Commenting on the decision, Johannes Hahn said "I saw with my own eyes the destruction wrought by Xynthia in Charente and Vendée and realised the extent of the need. I am happy with the decision taken today, as it demonstrates once again that solidarity between the Member States is not an empty phrase but a reality".

In February 2010, Storm Xynthia devastated large areas of France and, in particular, its Atlantic coastline, with the départements of Charente-Maritime and Vendée worst hit. It killed 53 people and injured a further 80. Many residential areas were laid waste, as were dams, sea defences, public and private infrastructure, railways and roads, farmland and businesses. On 7 May, the French authorities submitted a request for assistance from the European Union's Solidarity Fund, following which the Commission examined whether the criteria defining “extraordinary regional disasters” at European level had indeed been met.

The Solidarity Fund cannot intervene until a certain threshold has been reached: for France, 3.4 billion euros in damage. The direct damage caused by Xynthia throughout the country was valued by France at 2.4 billion euros. However, the French authorities decided to restrict their request to the two worst affected départements, where the damage is estimated at 1.4 billion euros (or 41% of the threshold). In view of these figures, the Commission applied a clause which allows funds to be mobilised exceptionally for “extraordinary regional disasters”. This decision takes into account the serious, long-lasting impact of this disaster on the life of the local population and the economy of the affected area. By way of example, 1050 producers of oysters and mussels were affected, many of whom have been forced out of business. The need to repair the sea defences along 200 kilometres of coastline will call for extensive work over several years.

In order to provide assistance to France from the Solidarity Fund, the Commission will be calling on the European Parliament and the Council – the two bodies constituting the Union's budgetary authority – to adopt what is known as an amending budget. The Commission and France will then sign an implementation agreement (see MEMO/10/59).

Other sources of aid available

The French authorities can also transfer funds awarded to them under other EU-funded programmes so as to concentrate assistance on the reconstruction of the devastated areas. Initial reallocations mean that 5 million euros from the Poitou-Charentes programme funded by the ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) will be specifically earmarked for building new sea defences and risk prevention measures to tackle the problems caused by the storm.

Additional information

The European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF) was created after parts of central Europe were devastated by flooding in the summer of 2002. It awards financial aid to Member States and accession countries that have suffered major natural disasters. Its annual budget is 1 billion euros.

In absolute terms, the damage caused by Xynthia made it the second worst regional natural disaster since the EUSF's foundation (second only to the earthquake that hit the Italian regions of Molise and Puglia in 2002).

Today, the Commission also announced release of Solidarity Fund aid following severe floods in Madeira (IP/10/1205).

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