Ref. :  000027320
Date :  2007-09-04
Language :  English
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Natural disasters, EU solidarity fund needed without delay and European reaction force

The resolution which was adopted by a large majority in a show of hands makes reference to the devastating fires and the violent floods which have caused death and destruction throughout the European continent, in particular in Greece and the United Kingdom, during the summer of 2007, affecting EU Member States, outermost regions, in particular Martinique and Guadeloupe, which were hit by Hurricane Dean, applicant countries and the EU's immediate neighbours. MEPs point out that the area burned in July alone was as large as the total area burned during the whole of last year.

In adopting a joint resolution on natural disasters, MEPs call on the Commission to mobilise the current EU Solidarity Fund in the most flexible manner possible, without delay, while calling for greater spending on flood defences. The House also request the creation of a European force that could immediately react in emergencies. On the fires in Greece, MEPs want the Member States to abstain from commercialisation, to strengthen penal sanctions for criminal acts that damage the environment.

European Union Solidarity Fund

The House asks the Commission to mobilise the current EU Solidarity Fund (EUSF) in the most flexible manner possible and without delay, avoiding time-consuming procedures or administrative obstacles. MEPs consider, in this respect, that the necessary resources need to be made available immediately for the purpose of relieving the suffering and satisfying the needs of victims and their immediate families by means of the EUSF, any other Community Instrument (e.g. Structural Funds or EARDF), or any other possible financial means.

MEPs urge the Commission, especially of a financial nature, so as to support the rehabilitation of the regions which have suffered heavy damages, restore the productive potential in the affected areas, seek to re-launch job creation and take the appropriate measures to compensate the social costs inherent in the loss of jobs and other income sources.

A European disaster force?

MEPs request the creation of a European force that could immediately react in emergencies, as proposed in former Commissioner BARNIER's report (see link below), and regret the lack of response and follow-up in this respect. The House also emphasises, in this context, the need to continue the development of a rapid reaction capability based on the civil protection modules of the Member States. MEPs ask the Commission to draw up a concrete proposal to this end while underlining the role of Member States and their local authorities in effectively preventing and combating fires.

Failed to demonstrate "sufficient solidarity"

MEPs note that Member States' resources to combat forest fires, especially by aerial means, are limited and that it is not always possible for Member States to offer support when the resources are needed nationally. The House notes, as a result, that some Member States received less assistance than others and had to rely on bilateral agreements with non-EU states for assistance. MEPs regret, therefore, that in some cases the EU as a whole failed to display sufficient solidarity.

The EP expresses its condolences to and strong solidarity with the relatives of those who lost their lives and with residents in the affected areas. MEPs pay tribute to the fire-fighters, professionals and volunteers who have worked tirelessly and risked their lives to extinguish fires, rescue people and limit damage from this summer’s natural disasters, as well as to the many individual citizens who fought to save their livelihoods and their surrounding environment.

Floods in the UK

The House emphasises the need to speed up the procedure to access EU funds for the recovery of agricultural land following floods and fires and for more financial aid to be made available in the development of flood defences.

James ELLES (EPP-ED, UK, Conservative, South East) said: "We have had amongst the wettest months of June and July on record, in my country. As a result, the Association of British Insurers reckons damages could be up to EUR 5 billion. Ten lives have been lost, countless homes have been destroyed, countless businesses dislocated and infrastructure has been destroyed. Therefore, it would be extremely important that floods are also included in any action which the Commission wishes to propose."

Richard CORBETT (PES, UK Labour Yorkshire and the Humber) said: "I draw attention in particular to the floods that affected many parts of England, including my own constituency of Yorkshire and the Humber. I would urge the Commission and all those involved in processing the requests that have now been made for assistance from the European Union budget – and for the solidarity that our Union can display – to make sure that in all these cases those funds are mobilised as rapidly as possible without undue bureaucratic impediment. As long as the decision is taken quickly and people know that the money is on its way, it is possible to plan even before the money actually arrives. It is also very important, symbolically and politically, to make this gesture of solidarity with all the regions that have suffered this summer."

Forest fires - abstain from commercialisation and increase penal sanctions

MEPs call on the Commission to carry out more research geared to improving forest fire prevention and forest fire-fighting methods and materials and to review planning and land use. The House urges the Member States, therefore, to take strong action to improve and implement their forest protection legislative framework and to abstain from commercialisation, reclassification and privatisation activities, thus limiting intrusion and speculation.

The EP deplores the fact that so many of these forest fires appear to have been started by acts of arson, and is particularly concerned that criminal acts of arson are increasingly to blame for forest fires in Europe. The House calls on the Member States, therefore, to strengthen penal sanctions for criminal acts that damage the environment and, in particular, for those causing forest fires.

The House condemns the practice of legalisation of illegal construction on protected and generally non-authorised areas, and urges that all attempts at reducing forest protection via changes to the Greek Constitution (Article 24) be stopped immediately.

Finally, the House urges the Member States to ensure that all burned forest areas will remain forests and are covered by reforestation programmes, and that no land use change should be allowed, to implement adequate legislation on conservation and appropriate land use including sustainable farm and forestry practices, water management and efficient risk management and to immediately plan extended reconstruction policies for tourism and the affected local economy.

Further information:

-Joint motion for a resolution on natural disasters

-Text, as adopted by the EP on 4 September, will shortly be available here

-For a European civil protection force: europe aid

E-mail address :
Telephone number in Brussels : (32-2) 28 41448 (BXL) / Telephone number in Strasbourg : (33-3) 881 73785 (STR)
Mobile number : (+32) 498 98 32 39

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