Brussels, 27 August 2014
EU Solidarity Fund: Commission moves to help Italy, Greece, Slovenia and Croatia after flood, earthquake and ice storm disasters
EU Commissioner for Regional Policy, Johannes Hahn, has today announced an aid package worth nearly €47 million proposed by the European Commission for Sardinia (Italy), Kefalonia (Ionian Islands, Greece), Slovenia and Croatia after a series of natural disasters struck the regions in late 2013 and early 2014.
The proposed aid of €16.3m to Italy is in response to the serious flooding in November 2013, while €3.7m is earmarked for Greece to help cover the costs of an earthquake and several aftershocks in Kefalonia and the Ionian Islands in January-March 2014. Both Slovenia and Croatia were severely affected by an ice storm in January and February 2014 and have been granted aid worth €18.4m and €8.6m respectively.
Commissioner Hahn, who oversees the Fund and signed today’s proposal, said "This decision reflects the very nature of this Fund, which is solidarity with our fellow Member States and neighbours in their time of need after natural disasters. The European Solidarity Fund helps these countries get back on their feet and regain stability which is threatened by the severe damage to economic sectors such as tourism, or destruction of essential infrastructure. The amount of funding proposed will enable Italy, Greece, Slovenia and Croatia to recover from their respective disasters and reimburse rescue costs in the affected regions."
He added: “These amounts are specific and targeted to help address the immediate and direct impact of natural disasters. In addition, the overall development of these regions is supported through the European Structural and Investment Funds. Concentrating resources in business support, research and innovation, ICT and the low carbon economy they can help these regions turn their disaster into an opportunity for developing a sustainable economic model based on their local strengths and characteristics”
The support, under the European Solidarity Fund, still needs to be approved by the European Parliament and the Council. Providing it is, it will go some way in covering the emergency costs incurred by the public authorities in these four Member States due to the disasters. The grant will in particular, help to restore vital infrastructure and services, reimburse the cost of emergency and rescue operations, and help cover some of the clean-up costs in the disaster-stricken regions.
On 18-19 November 2013, Sardinia (Italy) experienced extreme and intense rainfall with many rivers bursting their banks triggering floods and landslides. Serious damage was caused to residential homes, businesses and the agriculture industry, while there was severe disruption of major and local transport links and essential public infrastructure networks. Italy reported 16 casualties, over 1,700 displaced people and a missing person. Italy estimates that the repair of the road and supply network will last over 2 years.
On the Greek island of Kefalonia, on 26 January 2014, an earthquake measuring 5.8 on the Richter scale struck just northeast of Argostolion and was felt on the neighbouring Ionian Islands and throughout the entire territory of Greece. Dozens of aftershocks followed in the weeks and months after, with significant consequences on the environment and infrastructure. Greece reports that some 100 houses have to be demolished on the island, while thousands of houses suffered damage and are temporarily uninhabitable, forcing resident to sleep in tents, ships and emergency accommodation. Also, schools and nursery schools were closed until mid-February while falling rocks and landslides made many roads impassable. The earthquake had a significant impact on the social infrastructures and entrepreneurial activities of the Ionian Islands, known for their cultural heritage, and tourism sector preparations for the summer season were badly affected.
In late January this year, some of the worst winter blizzards for decades hit Slovenia, and Croatia. In the case of Slovenia, almost half of the Alpine nation's forests had been damaged by ice (amounting to a cost of €214m), while one in four homes was left without power, with heavy snow bringing down electricity lines and trees. The Slovene authorities report severe damage to electric power facilities, public and private buildings, businesses and to the transport and road network. Due to the harsh conditions and the damage to power lines, 120 000 households were without electricity, representing over 15% of Slovenia's population
Similarly Croatia, particularly the northwest and northern Adriatic regions experienced severe flooding, damaging basic infrastructure, and both private and public property. Croatian reported that 5 counties were affected: Primorje-Gorski Kotar, Karlovac, Sisak-Moslavina, Varaždin and Zagreb. Due to the heavy weight of ice on trees and infrastructure, trees fell and trunks cracked, while power lines (covered up to 10 cm of ice) snapped. Main roads were impassable and widespread power and water cuts affected citizens' daily lives, as well as the functioning of public institutions and businesses. Also, Croatian reported over 56 000 hectares of forests of which nearly 10 000 hectares were destroyed.
The total annual allocation available for the Solidarity Fund in 2014 is €530,604m (€500m in 2011 prices). In order to take account of the lower annual allocation introduced in 2014 (€500m plus any remainder of the preceding year compared with €1 billion before) and to avoid early depletion of the Fund, the maximum financial contribution for a given disaster may not exceed two-thirds of the annual allocation of the Fund - €353,736m in 2014.
The European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF) was set up to support EU member states and accession countries by offering financial support after major natural disasters. The Fund was created in the wake of the severe floods in Central Europe in the summer of 2002.
The revised EU Solidarity Fund Regulation entered into force on 28 June and simplifies the existing rules so that aid can be paid out more rapidly than before. The use of advance payments will be become possible for the first time for Member States from 2015.
Decisions: EU Solidarity Fund