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Brussels, 4 th March 2010

Commissioner Hahn to visit Madeira (Portugal) to express EU's solidarity towards victims of severe storms


Johannes Hahn, European Commissioner for Regional Policy, will be in Madeira on 6 and 7 March to see at first-hand the devastation caused by the floods which hit the Portuguese island on 20 February. He will assess the damage and discuss scope for EU support with the President of Madeira’s regional government, Alberto João Jardim. This visit follows up a meeting the Commissioner held with the Portuguese Interior Minister, Mr Rui Pereira, in Bruges (Belgium) on 26 February.

Speaking ahead of his visit, Mr. Hahn said: " We do not know the full scale of the tragedy yet, but we do know that a lot of people lost their lives and that many more are suffering. My thoughts go out to the victims and their families. The Commission will do its utmost to assist Madeira through the EU Solidarity Fund, as well as with its Structural and Cohesion Funds. Our aim is, to help restore normal living conditions as soon as possible, in particular ensuring access to running water, and bringing bridges, roads and businesses back into operation."

Floods and mudslides provoked by a heavy rainstorm on 20 February washed away bridges, blocked roads and cut off parts of the island. According to local authorities, the death toll stands at least at 40, with 80 people injured, a further 18 missing and 600 left homeless.

Drawing on the European Union Solidarity Fund

The Portuguese authorities have 10 weeks (i.e. until 1 May) in which to submit an application to the Commission for assistance from the European Union Solidarity Fund. They are currently preparing such an application, with the help of the Commission. At this stage no estimate of possible payments can be made.

The Commission will decide as quickly as possible if the criteria of application for the Solidarity Fund are met, and if so, will propose an amount of aid that can be made available. In order for the funding to be released, the Commission will then have to ask the European Parliament and the EU-Member States 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 and clearing land and devastated villages. Measures will be selected jointly by the Commission and the Portuguese authorities before the aid is released. Damage to private property will not be covered by the above arrangements.

Other resources available

The Madeira regional programme (allocated €320 million from the European Regional Development Fund – ERDF in 2007-2013) may also provide aid. In addition, Madeira also benefits from €143 million from the Cohesion Fund through the national programme called " Territorial Enhancement ". Specific measures can be taken inside these two programmes to respond to the catastrophe and for longer term reconstruction.

The Portuguese authorities have a certain margin of manoeuvre and have also the possibility to transfer funds from their other programmes. Under Cohesion Policy 2007-2013, the country has been allocated a total of €21.5 billion broken down into 14 programmes.

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 €1 billion.

Since 2002, the Commission has received 69 applications for financial assistance from the Fund of which 33 led to the granting of financial support totalling more than €2.15 billion. Portugal was granted aid from the EUSF in the wake of the forest fires which occurred in the summer of 2003. On that occasion it received €48.5 million.

Madeira benefits from a reinforced support (additional funding) from Cohesion Policy as it is one of the EU's seven "outermost regions" with a specific status recognised in the EU Treaty to take into account their specific geographic situation and their insularity.

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