In 2002, following major floods in Central Europe, the EUSF was created in order to respond to such events within the EU and the countries taking part in accession negotiations. The objective of the fund is to ensure an efficient response to major disasters or public health emergencies, independent of their nature and origin. The original EUSF ends in 2006 and Rolf Berend's (EPP-ED, DE) report sets out how what criteria should apply to the new EUSF to start in January 2007. The EUSF may grant financial assistance to Member States or candidate countries totalling up to €1 billion per year.
MEPs define the term "disaster" to mean any major destructive event that causes serious harm to the population and the environment, such as flood, fire or drought.
Threshold for intervention lowered - political judgement still possible
The committee backs the Commission's proposal to lower the threshold for financing the recovery process following a natural disaster. For the new EUSF, the thresholds are reduced from €3 billion or 0.6% of GNI of the affected country to €1 billion or 0.5% respectively. Despite these specific amounts, MEPs say that the Commission may, in exceptional and duly justified circumstances, recognise that a major disaster has occurred on a specific territory of an eligible state, and therefore use the Fund.
Wider scope for funding
Financial assistance from the EUSF, says the committee, should be granted for operations carried out by the public authorities of the state concerned, and which include the following categories:
essential emergency operations necessary for the immediate restoration to working order of infrastructure and plant, creation of emergency infrastructure to guarantee the immediate supply, in the fields of energy, drinking water and waste water, telecommunications, transport, health and education;
to satisfy the population’s needs;
immediate medical assistance and measures to protect the population in the event of a major health crises;
essential emergency operations for the immediate tackling of natural disasters or their immediate impact, as well as the immediate securing of preventive infrastructures;
immediate medical assistance to the direct victims of major disasters and terrorist attacks as well as psychological and social assistance to them and their family. In cases of terrorist attack the EU should, says the committee, react to events even where the material damage does not reach the threshold for mobilisation of the Fund but the consequences of the attack are so serious that Community solidarity becomes imperative.
The committee says the ‘polluter pays’ principle should apply, particularly in the event of industrial and technological disasters. Beneficiary States must therefore prove that they are seeking all possible compensation from third parties. The Solidarity Fund must not, according to MEPs, relieve culprits of their liability. The Member States should therefore create an effective legal framework so, where possible, those responsible are held liable for industrial accidents.
Rapporteur Rolf Berend said after the committee vote: "Although not an easy report it gives the Parliament a strong negotiating position with Council and gives us a good position for the plenary vote in May." The report was adopted with 42 votes in favour, 3 against and 0 abstentions.