Member of the European Commission, responsible for
Plenary Session, European Parliament
Strasbourg, 5 September 2005
Mr/Mrs President, Honourable Members, this summer´s weather extremes have left a trace of destruction across Europe.
The Iberian Peninsula is affected by the worst drought in 60 years. Hot weather contributed to the spread of fires across Europe. Portugal, the most seriously affected country, lost at least 180 000 ha to the flames.
At the same time the fires are raging in the south, floods wreaked havoc in Central and Eastern Europe.
The affected countries are still counting the cost of a flood crisis which - albeit in economic terms less catastrophic than the centennial flood in 2002 - left behind 70 people dead, thousands evacuated and a massive reconstruction bill to pay. Romania, the hardest hit with 33 deaths, estimates damage to reach 500 million EUR, to give just one example.
In view of this massive destruction, I wish to seize this opportunity to express my condolences to the families of those giving their lives and our sympathy to those who lost their homes. I can assure you that we are doing the utmost to alleviate and avoid suffering and to protect our citizens.
In that respect, the Community Civil Protection Mechanism has become an indispensable instrument for coordinating European assistance, being activated in flood-affected Romania and Bulgaria, and in fire-stricken Portugal.
Within less than 24 hours after Portugal requested assistance, the Mechanism managed to organize a fleet of fire-fighting aircraft and helicopters from France, Italy, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands to support the Portugese fire-fighters.
With this reinforcement it was possible to contain the fires within days. The situation is now under control.
Much less noticed by the public, the Mechanism also worked its way to assist Bulgaria and Romania, the two countries most affected by the floods. A large number of Member States provided assistance, sending teams, pumps, disinfectants and other means through the Mechanism.
Those who lost their loved ones or their homes, however, remind us that we must push even harder for further improvements of the system. Despite all progress made in recent years there is actually scope and need for such improvement.
Facilitating transport of assistance, or hiring additional fire-fighting aircraft from third countries are just two very obvious possibilities that could be considered if EU funding could be made available. My Services have made a series of proposals in a recent Commission Communication. I am confident that these will bear fruit.
To finish my intervention, let me turn towards a series of common measures in the field of prevention, protection and restoration that have been put in place in recent years.
First, the Commission´s Rural Development Programmes provide support for a wide range of forest activities, providing funds for prevention of fires and restoration of damaged forests, according to Member States´s priorities.
In Portugal, there is EUR 149 million from the EAGGF available for prevention and restoration in the period 2000 – 2006. In Spain, the total amount for such measures is EUR 820 million.
Second, the ‘Forest Focus Regulation’ is our most recent instrument to monitor and to implement forest fire prevention measures. The financial framework for the overall scheme for the period 2003 - 2006 is EUR 65 million, including EUR 9 million for prevention.
Third: the EU Solidarity Fund responds to “major disasters” causing direct damage of more than EUR 3 billion or exceeding 0.6% of the respective country’s gross national income. For 2005, the Commission has so far been requested to mobilize the Solidarity Fund by Romania and Bulgaria.
To conclude, I am confident that the Member States and the European Parliament will support our ideas and take forward this opportunity to translate their solidarity commitment into further action.
We should not wait for another disaster before strengthening our system.
Mr/Mrs President, Honourable Members, I would like to thank you for this valuable debate. I appreciate the interest you show to find common solutions for preventing forest fires and floods, to fight them and to mitigate the damages they cause, as well as to help Member States recovering.
I noted several suggestions that I will take into due consideration after this plenary session. I am happy that we found common ground on possible actions to focus on.
Thank you for the interest you have shown in this debate.