EU member states should start making “better” investments to fight escalating climate change as Europe’s resources are reaching their limits, the EU commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management said on Tuesday (12 September), following the recent deadly floods in Greece.
“Soon we might not be able to help where needed […] resources are strained to their limits”, Janez Lenarčič, the Slovenian Commissioner, told the European Parliament, calling simultaneously for increased EU funds and more “flexibility” to reallocate them when needed.
Lenarčič stressed the need for better investments in increasing prevention and preparedness in civil protection “across EU policies and programmes”
“Investments in preparedness and prevention save lives, protect communities and spare budgets”, Lenarcic said, adding that every euro invested in prevention saves €5 to 10 in response, “whilst average annual losses due to weather and climate-related extremes across member states now total €14 billion”.
According to the European Environment Agency, weather and climate-related disasters caused €56.6 billion in damages in 2021. Between 1980 and 2021, the total losses for 41 years amounted to a total of 560 billion.
‘Unexpected’ events strained EU funds
This summer, the southern EU was faced with extreme natural events ranging from wildfires to unprecedented floods. This required much more money from the EU solidarity fund to face the implications of these disasters.
But now this fund is depleted as such a huge extent of the disasters was not expected.
“That is why we requested a reinforcement of both the Solidarity and Emergency Aid Reserve and the flexibility instrument within the Multiannual Financial Framework revision”, Lenarčič added.
A Commission source close to the matter told EURACTIV that in the short term, this could be done by offering member states to reprogramme their cohesion and national agri programmes.
“The EU executive can and needs to show flexibility and member states need to ask and do this exercise,” the source said.
The Commission already offered flexibility to Slovenia to reprogramme € 3.3 billion of its cohesion funds to mitigate the consequences of disastrous floods that swept the country in August, something which could be offered to all member states, the source explained.
The Greek case
Greece has been the last victim of a flood that has so far killed 15 people and has ruined more than 450,000 acres of cultivated land.
After wildfires, floods deal Greek farmers the final blow
Unprecedented wildfires during the summer followed by massive floods have dealt the Greek agriculture a severe blow with analysts estimating that food prices will soon skyrocket further.
The agricultural disaster is estimated at more than €2 billion although a clear picture of the real damage cannot be projected yet, considering that thousands of acres are still under water.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis met with European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen in Strasbourg on Tuesday as part of a mission to safeguard EU funds and contain the growing anger at home.
Von der Leyen explained that Greece should not be “left alone” in this crisis and vowed a €2.2 billion aid package. This money, sources familiar with the discussion told EURACTIV, will mainly come from the unused funds from the 2014-2020 EU budget, the new 2021-2027 budget, as well as other funds such as NextGenerationEU.
“These are not new funds but funds that would reach maturity in the coming years anyway […] the Commission will just speed things up”, an EU source told EURACTIV.
Fiasco with Recovery Fund?
Meanwhile, a high-ranking Commission official involved in emergency and disaster operations told EURACTIV that a few weeks before the catastrophic floods in Greece, the government in Athens had submitted to the EU executive a revised version of the country’s Recovery Plan, from which anti-flooding projects were removed.
“It was about building flood prevention (rivers etc)”, the official said, adding that after the latest disaster, the Greek government’s position will hopefully change.
Greece’s main opposition party, the leftist Syriza, raised the issue on Monday but the government did not provide any response.
(Max Griera – Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos/Zoran Radosavljevic | EURACTIV.com)
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