The European Union Solidarity Fund enables the EU to provide financial support to a Member State, a country involved in accession negotiations or a region in the event of a major natural disaster.

Legal basis

Article 175, third paragraph and Article 212(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), Council Regulation (EC) No 2012/2002 of 11 November 2002 establishing the European Union Solidarity Fund and Regulation (EU) No 661/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 May 2014 amending Council Regulation (EC) No 2012/2002 establishing the European Union Solidarity Fund.

Objectives

The European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF) enables the EU, acting as a body, to provide effective support to a Member State, or to a country involved in accession negotiations, in its efforts to deal with the effects of a major natural disaster or a major public health emergency. Through the EUSF, which is not covered by the EU budget, up to EUR 500 million (2011 prices), plus the unspent allocation from the previous year, can be made available each year to supplement public expenditure on emergency operations by the Member State(s) concerned.

Budget and achievements

The EUSF was set up under Council Regulation (EC) 2012/2002 in response to the disastrous flooding that affected central Europe in the summer of 2002. Since then, 80 disasters – including floods, forest fires, earthquakes, storms and drought – in 24 different European countries have received support through the fund of a total value of more than EUR 5 billion.

A. Scope and eligibility

The EUSF serves mainly to provide assistance in the event of a major or regional natural disaster or a major public health emergency with serious repercussions for living conditions, human health, the natural environment or the economy in one or more regions of a Member State or of a country applying for accession. A natural disaster is regarded as ‘major’ if it results in direct damage (in the Member State or country applying for accession) in excess of EUR 3 billion (2011 prices) or more than 0.6% of the gross national income of the beneficiary state. A ‘regional natural disaster’ is defined as any natural disaster in a NUTS 2 region (3.1.6) that results in direct damage in excess of 1.5% of that region’s gross domestic product (GDP). In the case of outermost regions, within the meaning of Article 349 of the TFEU, this latter threshold is set at 1% of the region’s GDP. Finally, a ‘major public health emergency’ is any life-threatening or otherwise serious hazard to health of biological origin seriously affecting human health and requiring decisive action to contain further spreading, leading to emergency response measures estimated to cost over EUR 1.5 billion (2011 prices), or more than 0.3 % of the gross national income of the beneficiary state.

1. Measures

Assistance from the EUSF takes the form of a grant to supplement public spending by the beneficiary state and is intended to finance essential emergency and recovery measures to alleviate damage which, in principle, is non-insurable. Urgent measures eligible for funding are:

  • The immediate restoration to working order of infrastructure and facilities providing energy, drinking water, waste water disposal, telecommunications, transport, healthcare and education;
  • The provision of temporary accommodation and the funding of rescue services, in order to meet the needs of the population affected;
  • The immediate consolidation of preventive infrastructure and protection of cultural heritage sites;
  • The cleaning-up of disaster-stricken areas, including natural zones;
  • Rapid assistance, including medical, to the population affected by a major public health emergency and the protection of the population from the risk of being affected.

2. Submission of the application

The state affected must submit an application for assistance from the EUSF to the Commission no later than 12 weeks after the first effects of the disaster become clear. It must estimate the total direct damage caused by the natural disaster and its impact on the population, the economy and the environment concerned, and the cost of the measures required, and indicate any other sources of funding, together with a short description of the implementation of EU legislation on disaster risk prevention and management related to the nature of the natural disaster.

3. Implementation

The procedure for allocating a grant, followed by a budgetary procedure (approval by Parliament and the Council), can take several months. Once the appropriations have been made available, the Commission concludes an agreement with the beneficiary state and provides a grant.

The 2014 reform introduced the possibility for Member States to request advance payments, the granting of which is decided upon by the Commission, if sufficient resources are available. The 2020 reform increased the maximum amount of advance payments to 25% of the anticipated total amount of the financial contribution from the EUSF, and capped it at EUR 100 million.

The beneficiary state is responsible for using the grant and auditing the way it is spent (however, the Commission may carry out on-the-spot checks on operations financed by the EUSF). Emergency measures can be financed retrospectively to cover operations from the first day of the disaster.

It is not possible to finance measures twice, and it is the responsibility of the beneficiary state to ensure that costs covered by the EUSF are not covered by other EU financing instruments (in particular by instruments of cohesion, agricultural or fisheries policies).

4. Use of the grant

The grant must be used within 18 months of the date on which it was allocated. The beneficiary state must pay back any part of the grant that remains unused. Six months after the expiry of the 18-month period, it must present an implementation report to the Commission. This document must provide details of the expenditure eligible for support from the EUSF and of all other funding received, including insurance settlements and compensation from third parties. It must also set out preventive measures taken or proposed, including the use of European Structural and Investment Funds for this purpose; experience gained from the disaster or emergency, the state of implementation of relevant EU legislation on disaster risk prevention and management; and any other relevant information on the prevention and mitigation measures taken.

5. Annual report

The Commission presents an annual report on the activities of the EUSF. The latest annual report concerns 2017 and 2018 and shows that in 2017, the Commission received 10 new applications for financial contribution, namely from France, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal and Spain. In addition, Italy revised and updated its application initially submitted in 2016 for the series of major earthquakes of that year. The two applications received from Spain were deemed not to meet the eligibility conditions and were rejected. In 2018, four applications were submitted for EU Solidarity Fund assistance by Bulgaria, Cyprus, Italy and Romania, with only the application from Cyprus being rejected.

B. The 2020 reform of the EUSF

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the scope of the EUSF was extended in 2020 to cover major public health emergencies: the amending Regulation (EU) 2020/461 of the European Parliament and of the Council entered into force on 30 March 2020 and introduced major public health emergencies as a reason to mobilise the EU Solidarity Fund. The ceiling of advance payments was also increased and the requirements for the implementation report updated.

Role of the European Parliament

In its resolution of 15 January 2013 on the European Union Solidarity Fund, implementation and application[1], Parliament highlighted the importance of the EUSF as the main instrument allowing the EU to respond to serious disasters. At the same time, it criticised the unacceptably long time it takes to provide aid to affected regions or Member States, and called for these delays to be reduced by simplifying the procedures involved and allowing advance payments to be made, elements taken on board in the new legislative proposal of July 2013. The Commission’s proposal also incorporated other suggestions from Parliament, such as the clearer and more precise definition of the concept of disasters, and of the scope of intervention, in order to reduce the scepticism of the many Member States opposed to reforming this EU instrument.

On the basis of the above-mentioned Commission proposal of July 2013, both Parliament and the Council adopted their respective positions, on the basis of which interinstitutional negotiations took place in February 2014, with a compromise being reached after three meetings at first reading under the ordinary legislative procedure. The new rules entered into force in June 2014.

Parliament’s negotiating position included strong support for the advance payment mechanism. Initially deleted by the Council, this new provision is part of the compromise reached (with the threshold provided for in the Commission proposal, i.e. 10% up to a ceiling of EUR 30 million).

Regarding the threshold for the eligibility of regional disasters, the final agreement maintained the rate of 1.5% of regional GDP, as provided for in the Commission proposal, but Parliament managed to secure a lower threshold of 1% of GDP for the outermost regions of the European Union. Other achievements include extending the Member States’ time-limit for submitting applications to 12 weeks (the Commission and Council position was 10 weeks), introducing a six-week deadline for the Commission to reply to applicants, and extending the period during which contributions from the EUSF are to be used to 18 months (the Commission and Council position was 12 months).

Technical assistance is, in principle, not eligible for support, but Parliament’s position introduced a derogation to this provision and it was taken on board in the compromise: technical assistance costs directly linked to the preparation and implementation of projects are eligible for funding.

In its resolution of 1 December 2016 entitled ‘the European Union Solidarity Fund: an assessment’[2] Parliament emphasised ‘the importance of the 2014 revision, which managed to overcome the blockage in the Council, and represented a belated response to Parliament’s repeated calls for improved responsiveness and effectiveness of aid, in order to ensure a rapid and transparent response in support of people affected by natural disasters’.

In its latest resolution of 18 May 2021 on the review of the European Union Solidarity Fund[3], Parliament invited the Commission, in the context of a next reform:

  • To continue its work to simplify and speed up the application procedure for Member States, to ensure a quicker response to disasters and emergencies;
  • To better take into account disasters on a regional scale;
  • To assess the specific impacts of droughts and to address them in the future regulation;
  • To focus, as far as possible, on the regions that are the most at risk of major or regional natural disasters or major public health emergencies, particularly the outermost regions, islands, mountainous regions, and regions that are prone to intense seismic or volcanic activity or future public health crises;
  • To strengthen and simplify the synergies between the EU Solidarity Fund and the European cohesion policy funds, as well as the Union Civil Protection Mechanism;
  • To take greater account of the latest risk prevention principles when determining eligibility of projects and to integrate the ‘Build Back Better’ principle into the regulation;
  • To oblige beneficiary states to inform citizens about EU financial support.

Parliament believes that a reassessment of the EU Solidarity Fund’s budget might be necessary in the future, to ensure that the budget is large enough to deal effectively with major and regional natural disasters and major public health emergencies.

 

[1]OJ C 440, 30.12.2015, p. 13.
[2]OJ C 224, 27.6.2018, p. 140.
[3]Texts adopted, P9_TA(2021)0220.

Diána Haase