Tuesday

21st Sep 2021

MEPs: EU aid 'not sufficient' after summer floods and fires

  • The flooding in Germany alone this summer is estimated to cost more than €6bn (Photo: Andreas Janke)
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This summer has seen a succession of natural disasters, especially floods, wildfires and other extreme weather events, causing significant human and economic losses all across Europe.

Affected EU member states are still assessing the damage, but many are expected to request financial support under the European Solidarity Fund due to the dimensions of the destruction.

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So far, there has not been any official requests.

While the European Commission is ready to mobilise the funds, the budget for 2021 has already been exceeded - revealing a gap between needs in member states and the response that can be mounted by the EU.

"These last two years, floods, fires, earthquakes and other disasters have been all too common and ever more intense … yet resources are dwindling," EU commissioner for cohesion and reforms, Elisa Ferreira, said on Monday (6 September) during a debate in the European Parliament's regional committee.

"It is clear that, for some regions, the scale of devastation is such, that they will require significant financial investment over the long term to recover and rebuilt from the damage," she added.

However, only up to €500m per year are earmarked to support EU states (and candidate countries) in the event of a major natural disaster or public health emergency, such as the Covid-19 pandemic - partly because the European Solidarity Fund was halved during the last negotiations over the EU's long-term budget.

According to Belgian centre-right MEP Pascal Arimont, this amount is often seen as a "drop in the ocean" compared to the economic magnitude of the damage.

In Germany, for example, overall reconstruction in areas hit by floods is estimated to cost more than €6bn. In Belgium, the costs amount to €2bn.

"We need to face that these aids are not sufficient," said socialist Spanish MEP Cristina Maestre, also warning that it is urgent to slow down climate change which exacerbates extreme weather events.

Under the European Solidarity Fund, the European Commission announced last June €119m in support to France, Greece and Croatia following several natural disasters in 2020.

However, according to Bulgarian MEP Andrey Novakov (EPP), there is a need to adapt the fund in a way that can reach people more quickly - otherwise "nobody will understand what we did here in Brussels".

Beyond financial support, EU commissioner Ferreira recalled that implementing disaster prevention, preparedness and long-term recovery plans is essential.

"It is not enough to respond only after the crisis," she said.

Meanwhile, experts estimate that high global temperatures have increased by up to nine times the likelihood of heavy rainfall in western Europe, such as those that led to severe floods this summer in Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Austria, Italy and Romania.

The catastrophic floods in mid-July caused more than 200 deaths in Germany and Belgium.

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