EUROPEAN UNION SOLIDARITY FUND (8323/06)
Letter from Tom Watson MP, Parliamentary
Secretary, Cabinet Office, to the Chairman
Thank you for your letter of 25 July 2006,
I am sorry not to have replied before. However, we have no record
of it having been received in the Cabinet Office.
As you may be aware, the European Commission
has withdrawn the proposal for a regulation establishing the EU
Solidarity Fund. However, recent natural disasters in the EU including
floods here have drawn attention to the role of the Solidarity
Fund and it is therefore an opportune moment to respond specifically
to the questions you raised.
The first question was whether the Solidarity
Fund (EUSF) has demonstrated any added value since the initial
payments were made in the aftermath of the flooding in central
Europe in 2002. The Government supported establishing the EUSF
in 2002, recognising that the Community's cohesion objectives
gave it a role alongside Member States in contributing to emergency
relief in the event of major disasters. HMG will continue to seek
Commission assurances that each application to the EUSF aligns
with Regulation provisions.
The Government believes that the EUSF has shown
added value in supporting Member States in the event of major
disasters, distributing over 1 billion to 12 Member
States since 2002. Indeed HMG applied for EUSF assistance following
the floods of 2007 and the Commission has proposed mobilising
162.4 million for this purpose.
The second question was where unspent money
allocated to the Fund has gone. The EUSF has no pre-allocated
budget, so any EUSF mobilisation up to the 1 billion
a year ceiling is usually met by transfers from other budget lines.
If annual grants are lower than this annual budget ceiling, resources
continue to be spent on pre-existing budget commitments. Any money
allocated to the EUSF but unspent by the beneficiary Member State
is to be recovered by the Commission in line with EUSF Regulation
provisions and after the appropriate monitoring and control procedures.
The third question asked for my analysis of
the proposals to expand the Fund to include public health threats,
which the Committee considered to have some justification. The
main elements of the proposal were: (a) to widen the scope of
the Fund to enable it to be deployed for disasters other than
of natural origin; (b) to allow for advance payments from the
Fund to be made; (c) to speed up the rate of response and the
visibility of Community support; and (d) to simplify the intervention
When the Regulation was proposed a significant
number of Member States including the UK raised concerns about
it. In particular, there would be additional budgetary implications
of widening the EUSF's scope, simplifying its eligibility criteria
and lowering its claims thresholds. The Government recognises
that widening the EUSF's original objectives could in principle
be helpful in addressing a broader range of potential risks. However,
with reference specifically to public health threats there are
other relevant Community instruments. These include provisions
in the Civil Protection Mechanism concerning relevant natural
and man-made disasters. They extend to budget lines under the
headings of Health and Consumer Protection, which concern enforcement
of product safety rules including advice on risks of injury or·
exposure to chemicals; the Public Health Programme, which includes
EU-wide planning and crisis management for cost effective protection
against major threats such as pandemics or bio-terrorism; the
European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control; the European
Food Safety Authority; and other measures concerning food safety
and animal health.
The elements in the proposal on speeding up
the rate of response or even providing advance payments might
also be very useful changes to the Regulation, given the time
it currently takes to secure financial support from the EUSF.
In summary, the Government's view is that it would be preferable
to seek to improve these specific instruments and policies before
looking to extend the scope of the EUSF, which was designed for
a quite different purpose.
16 February 2008
4 Correspondence with Ministers, 40th Report of Session
2006-07, HL Paper 187, pp 36-37. Back