Rosa Estaràs Ferragut is parliament's rapporteur on the European Union solidarity fund, implementation and application
The European Union solidarity fund (EUSF) is one of the most visible and affective examples of EU solidarity. However, it has long been felt that the fund should be overhauled to make it more effective, faster and visible. European aid to EU countries hit by natural disasters should be delivered faster and more efficiently thanks to EUSF rule changes approved by parliament.
With this reform, the EU solidarity fund will be a much more effective tool. These changes, already agreed with EU ministers, include extending the deadline for applying for natural disaster aid from 10 to 12 weeks, paying 10 per cent of the aid in advance, and simplifying aid approval criteria for smaller 'regional' disasters.
"It has long been felt that the [solidarity] fund should be overhauled to make it more effective, faster and visible"
Advance payments were also very important because, when there is a catastrophe, efficiency is very important and after many negotiations we have been able to unlock this issue. The clause enabling advance payments of 10 per cent of the expected aid amount was retained, despite objections in the negotiations with the council of ministers.
The EUSF normally focuses on major disasters, but support is available also for more limited regional disasters. For these, the new rules now stipulate a simple single eligibility criterion - a damage threshold of 1.5 per cent of the region's gross domestic product (GDP) - which will make it easier for the European commission to assess applications and speed up aid payments. It is also secured a lower threshold of one per cent of GDP to apply to the EU’s outermost regions of the EU, and ensured that the fund can now also be used for disasters that take longer to develop before their disastrous effects are felt, such as droughts.
Two more weeks (12 instead of 10) have been won for disaster-stricken states to make their aid applications. They also obtained more time to for them to use the fund’s contribution: 18 months instead of one year.
Time limits for administrative procedures have been reduced, so the commission will now have to assess within six weeks of receiving the application whether the conditions for mobilising the solidarity fund are met and determine the amount of financial help possible.