The solidarity fund is the EU's main tool for responding to natural disasters in member states, such as the recent floods in the Czech Republic, France and the United Kingdom.
To ensure its efficiency and effectiveness, the fund needs to undergo reform. Based on their hands-on experience from implementing the fund, EU regions supported by the European parliament, proposed four key improvements.
In November 2013, the Committee of the Regions (CoR) unanimously adopted my opinion on the solidarity fund. The opinion and its recommendations reflect the EU regions' first hand experiences.
The Liberec region in the Czech Republic, where I am from, has been hit by floods multiple times with the most recent being in June 2013. In the case of 2010, we had great difficulty with the fund. For example, the fund was intended for 'immediate' operations but assistance only arrived two years after the disaster.
"Regarding the scope of eligible operations, the fund should provide the possibility of funding not only for the repair of infrastructure, but also for improvements to better withstand future natural disasters"
First, our main proposal includes the widening of the scope of eligible operations. Second, we would like to see the introduction of an advanced payment mechanism and adjustment of the deadlines in the case of long lasting floods and disasters. And finally, we suggest extending the deadline for the use of the fund from one to two years.
Regarding the scope of eligible operations, the fund should provide the possibility of funding not only for the repair of infrastructure, but also for improvements to better withstand future natural disasters. In justified cases the infrastructure could be even relocated to a more suitable location.
The CoR and European parliament together welcomed the introduction of an advanced payment mechanism. This mechanism provides the possibility of prepayment to member states.
Thus, the fund would be accessible at the time of need rather than two years later, as was the case for Liberec in 2010. I would like to emphasise that this mechanism can be organised without extra financial implications.
In terms of deadlines, these need take into account the possibility of long lasting floods and disasters. An applications to the fund needs to be made within 10 weeks following the first damage caused. This is not realistic for long lasting disasters. The deadline should be 10 weeks after the last damage. This way, in cases where disasters last longer than 10 weeks, member states have the time to calculate the damage and submit their applications.
Furthermore, one of the main proposals expressed in my opinion was the extension of the deadline for the fund's use to two years. Standard public procurement rules have to be followed after the end of the emergency period. Experience has also shown that this often leads to a lengthy process where the one year deadline becomes very difficult to meet.
If we, the EU, are to be more democratic and efficient, our reforms must address shortcomings. Our contribution as the EU regions aimed to ensure the fund better addresses the needs on the ground.
The inter-institutional negotiations on the reform of the fund were launched on 19 February, with no agreement so far. I hope that these necessary changes identified by the CoR and parliament are reflected in a reformed solidarity fund.