MEPs pave way for quicker, more efficient EU aid for disaster-stricken European countries
The new, enhanced European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF) will make it possible to help disaster-hit regions in EU and EU candidate countries more rapidly with advance payments and faster procedures. The draft rules, approved by the members of the Regional Development committee on Wednesday, also introduce simpler and clearer criteria for "regional" disasters and extend the deadline for the submission of applications by concerned countries from 10 to 12 weeks.
The updated draft law to reform the EUSF has been informally agreed with the Council and must still be confirmed by the full house in the second April plenary session.
"The EU should and wants to be more than just a common market, and must be able to prove it, especially in difficult times. This is where the EUSF comes in, which is a European instrument with visible impact and satisfactory outcome for citizens in regions hit by a natural disaster. Its usefulness has never been doubted, and its existence never questioned, but it was necessary to improve the speed of its procedures to provide assistance on time. The new proposal simplifies the existing rules, so that aid is paid faster. The plans also introduce the possibility that, for the first time, payments are anticipated and discussed with clarity as to who and what is eligible, in particular with regard to regional disasters", said rapporteur Rosa Estaràs Ferragut (EPP, ES).
During negotiations with the Council on the EUSF reform agreement, MEPs insisted and obtained the possibility of advance payments of 10% (capped at €30 million) of the expected contribution to be available to disaster-hit regions for the first time.
Clearer and simpler rules for regional disasters
The EUSF normally focuses on major disasters, whose damages surpass either €3 billion in 2002 prices (€3.606 billion in 2012) or 0.6% of the affected country's gross national income. But support is available also for "regional" disasters. The somewhat vague criteria for this category have now been replaced by a clear damage threshold of 1.5% of the region's gross domestic product. This will make it easier for the Commission to assess such applications and speed up the payment of grants.
In addition, the EP's negotiating team managed to secure a lower threshold of 1% to be applicable to the outermost regions of the EU.
Furthermore, the fund can now also be used for disasters which develop over a longer period of time before their disastrous effects are felt, such as droughts.
Extended deadlines, faster procedures
MEPs have obtained two more weeks (12 instead of 10 weeks) for concerned states to submit their applications, because preparing these can take a very long time for the public authorities, as they try to assess the damage and gather the necessary evidence, while, at the same time, they are busy with urgent measures dealing with the catastrophe. The Commission will now have to assess within 6 weeks after receiving the application whether the conditions for mobilising the solidarity fund are met and determine the amount of the possible financial assistance.
Member states also obtain more time to use the contribution from the fund: Eighteen months instead of one year.
The EU solidarity fund, with a maximum budget of €500 million per year for 2014-2020, has been set up in 2002 following the severe floods in Central Europe in the summer of the same year. Since then, it has been mobilised for 56 disasters covering different catastrophic events including floods, storms, forest fires, earthquakes and drought. Up to now, 23 countries have been supported from the fund for a total amount of almost € 3.6 billion.
For a long time already, it was felt that the fund should be overhauled to make it more effective, faster and visible. In 2005, a first proposal for the reform of the EUSF had already been favourably received by the Parliament but rejected by the Council.
In the chair: Danuta Hübner (EPP, PL)
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