Newsletter XVII - by Johannes Wachter from DG REGIO, European Commission

On 15th May 2019, the European Commission published its first major report evaluating the functioning of the EU Solidarity Fund (EUSF), and providing recommendations for the future. The report (which can be downloaded at the web-links provided below) shows that since its creation in 2002, the EUSF has been a tangible and effective expression of solidarity towards EU Member States and accession countries hit by severe natural disasters.

 From 2002 to 2019, the EU provided more than €5.5 billion to assist twenty-four countries in the aftermath of some eighty-eight natural disasters, such as floods, storms, forest fires, earthquakes and other natural disasters. The EUSF assistance was key to assisting the affected populations (in particular regarding provisional accommodation), restoring essential infrastructure, cleaning up, ensuring the continuity of public services, and protecting cultural heritage, amongst other actions.

 The report is based on a comprehensive ex-post evaluation of the Fund’s interventions in twenty-four countries, including twenty-three EU Member States and one accession country (Serbia), between 2002 and 2017. According to the findings of the evaluation, the EUSF has effectively delivered on its objectives, bringing EU added value to the post-disaster response in Member States and accession countries, and to the rapid restoration of living conditions for the local populations. The EUSF contributions are also crucial in weathering the financial impact of the disasters, especially for countries and regions facing budgetary difficulties in the aftermath of the catastrophic events.

 While it would not be scientifically sound to say that the EUSF interventions over the past seventeen years reflect climate change, it appears that extreme weather events have been on the rise in recent years. Two thirds of all EUSF interventions so far relate to flooding, storms and related phenomena. On the other hand, earthquakes - albeit much less frequent - remain the disaster type causing by far the highest losses.

 The evaluation shows that the EUSF has contributed primarily to post-disaster spending for temporary accommodation and basic services for the affected population, as well as restoration of key infrastructure. The evaluation also confirms that the 2014 reform of the EUSF has made the Fund and its functioning even more flexible and adaptable to the specific situations. 

Clearer eligibility criteria for regional disasters, as well as a simpler and streamlined decision-making process, have reduced the time needed for activation of the EUSF. In addition, the introduction of advance payments enabled early deployment of part of the resources to help meet the very first needs. Whether advance payments should be increased is one of the resulting questions to be examined in the near future. 

Thanks to the new mechanism introduced in the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2014-2020 for allocating annual budget resources, the EUSF can now mobilise greater amounts to respond to particularly catastrophic events - as witnessed by the record contribution of €1.2 billion approved in the case of the 2016 and 2017 earthquakes in Central Italy.

 The EUSF operates in complementarity with other EU instruments addressing disaster risk management (DRM), especially the European Structural and Investment Funds, and the DRM policies driven by the Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) and DG ECHO. In many cases, the combined use has ensured addressing short and medium term needs with longer-term investments in climate adaptation, risk management, civil protection, and preventive infrastructure.

 The use of the EUSF promotes the exchange of good practices at both national and international level and the culture of disaster prevention, preparedness and resilience. It also strengthens the capacity of the administrations to deal with natural disasters and provide the necessary relief to the people concerned.

 Finally, the evaluation of the EUSF also invites further reflection on how to improve its functioning and exploit the potential of the EUSF interventions. Future activities will include, for instance, assistance to the Member States to improve and accelerate damage assessment (where the work on risk data by the JRC is of particular relevance), promote risk prevention in operations supported by the EUSF, and enhance the visibility of the interventions and overall people’s awareness.

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