EU Solidarity Fund: supporting disaster recovery 2002-2020

The EU Solidarity Fund - EUSF - was established in 2002 as a reaction to the severe floods in Central Europe in the summer of 2002. Since then it has become one of the main EU instruments for disaster recovery and a tangible expression of the EU  solidarity with Member States and Candidate Countries affected by natural disasters.
The EU Solidarity Fund is one of the most concrete expressions of EU solidarity. It provides longer-term financial support to Member States hit by natural disasters and brings relief to citizens and regions suffering from the consequences. It also reminds us about the importance of investing in prevention and climate mitigation, in line with the priorities of the European Green Deal.” 
                                                                  - Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira
 The Fund’s main purpose is to provide a financial contribution to assist the recovery from disasters such as flooding, earthquakes or storms. In terms of procedure, the intervention of the EUSF is triggered by a request by the affected Member State which has to be submitted to the Commission within 12 weeks of the date of the first damage caused by the disaster. The Commission assesses the application and - if the application is accepted - proposes an amount of aid to the European Parliament and the Council who have to approve it before it can be paid out. Once the appropriations become available in the EU budget the Commission adopts a decision awarding the aid to the affected State following which the aid is paid out immediately and in a single installment.
As part of the EU coordinated package responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the scope of the EU Solidarity Fund was extended by a modifying regulation adopted on 1 April 2020.  The amendment includes public health crises within the scope of the EUSF, to allow its mobilisation, if needed, for the hardest hit Member States.
That amendment was part of the overall package proposed by the Commission to tackle the effects of the coronavirus crisis, also known as Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative (CRII).  €132.7 million as advance payment to GermanyIrelandGreeceSpainCroatiaHungary and Portugal following their request for an assistance.

1. Which countries have been supported?

Between 2002 and 2020, the EUSF mobilised a total of over EUR 6.5 billion for interventions in 96 disaster events in 23 Member States and 1 accession country. Italy is by far the biggest beneficiary of the Fund with more than EUR 3 billion received so far. Serbia is the only country that has been supported by the EUSF outside of the EU.

In August 2020, the Commission has decided to award a first disbursement of financial aid worth €88.9 million under EUSF to Croatia, following the devastating earthquake that hit the city of Zagreb and its surroundings on 22 March 2020. This comes as a contribution to the country's efforts to assist the population, restore essential infrastructures and services. This is the highest amount ever paid out as an advance payment and follows the recent modification raising the maximum from EUR 30 million to EUR 100 million. Last December, the Commission also executed the full payment of the financial contribution to Croatia, totalling € 683.7 million - the second highest amount ever paid by the Fund for emergency and recovery operations after a natural disaster.

2. What types of disasters have been supported?

The EUSF is designed to intervene to support the recovery effort in the aftermath of natural disasters. The graph below shows a snapshot of the types of disasters that have occurred in the period considered. Flooding is by large the most frequently occurring disaster affecting European countries, followed by storm and other adverse weather conditions, fires and earthquakes. In EUSF's history there has been only one intervention in a case of man made disaster - the Prestige Oil spill that occurred in November 2002 off the coast of Galicia in Spain. 

3. The scale of the disasters

Even though they do not represent the majority of cases, earthquakes are the events provoking the biggest overall damage in financial terms.
And, respectively, they have a big share in terms of EUSF interventions, almost equaling the support for floods. The biggest earthquake - in Central Italy in 2016 - has registered a record high EUSF contribution of EUR 1.2 billion. 
The amount of EUSF aid for a given disaster is determined on the basis of total direct damage caused by that disaster in relation to the relative wealth of the affected State, as reflected by the threshold. The threshold for "major disasters"  is specific to each eligible State: it represents either 0.6 % of the affected State’s GNI or EUR 3 billion in 2011 prices, whichever is the lower. There are also other categories, notably "regional" and "neighbouring country". For the former, the total direct damage must exceed 1.5% of regional GDP (at NUTS2 level). For outermost regions the threshold of 1% of regional GDP is applied. In the latter case, an eligible State is affected by the same major disaster as an eligible neighbouring State. With 83 cases the regional disasters are the most frequent category. 

4. Looking at the treatment of the cases

How many EUSF procedures were treated per year?

One feature of the environment in which the Fund operates is the high unpredictability of the occurrence and magnitude of disaster events per year. For instance, in terms of frequency, peak years with many disaster events were recorded in 2004, 2005, 2010 and 2014 (with at least 10 events annually), whilst the calmest years for EUSF were in 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2015.
From 2002 to the end of 2020, 142 applications were made to the Fund ; 96 were successful, 43 were rejected and three were withdrawn.

What was the EU budget per year?

The chart below show the total EU budget allcoated. 

Time taken to prepare requests for support

The Fund can be mobilised following an application from the country concerned provided that the disaster event justifies intervention at the European level. The regulation was reformed in 2014 and its legal basis is Regulation (EU) 2012/2002, as amended by Regulation No. 661/2014. The 2014 reform introduced a number of changes in the Fund’s activities, such as clarification of the admissibility criteria for applications for regional disasters, extension of the regulatory deadline for applications, extension of the implementation period, and the introduction of advance payments. 

5. Examples of support

2012: Earthquake in Italy

Photo: Commissioner Johannes Hahn, in the center, meeting the agents of the Italian Civil Protection, 2012.

2007: Greek forest fires

Video: President Barroso and Commissioner Hübner on to providing support and technical assistance to help people reconstruct the Regions of Thessaly, Sterea, Attica and the Peloponnesus, 2007

2015: Bulgaria

At the end of January 2015, parts of Bulgaria also suffered from heavy rainfall, snow, floods and landslides. As a result, considerable damage was caused to public infrastructure, businesses, private homes and assets, and the agricultural sector was harmed. The South-East region of Bulgaria was the hardest hit by the events. In the city of Burgas alone, over 300 buildings were flooded.

2014 : Flooding in Serbia

In May of 2014, the Republic of Serbia was struck by flooding along with much of southeastern Europe. Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina were the worst affected by the flooding, with Serbia seeing the highest levels of rainfall in 120 years of recorded measurements. An EUSF grant of EUR 60 million was made available to contribute to disaster relief efforts.
Photo: Commissioner Hahn, on the right of the group, assess the damages caused by the flood.

2016-2017 earthquakes in central Italy - the biggest EUSF contribution

The EU mobilised an unprecedented amount of €1.2 billion under the EU Solidarity Fund, the highest sum ever mobilised in a single instalment, following the earthquakes of 2016 and 2017 in the Italian regions of Abruzzo, Lazio, Marche and Umbria.

6. Complementarity with EU investments in climate mitigation and risk prevention

The EUSF is a valuable instrument in the EU toolkit for interventions in disaster situations, bringing EU added value to the post-disaster response in Member States and accession countries. However, it intervenes only when the disaster has happened. Therefore, it is important to invest in prevention and mitigation, in line with the European Green Deal. There are significant synergies between EUSF and the funds of Cohesion Policy (ERDF and Cohesion Fund). While EUSF addresses interventions in specific situations of natural disasters in the short to medium term, Cohesion Policy takes a more long-term perspective of strategic planning and investments for civil protection, preventive infrastructure, and preparedness, prevention and management of disaster risks.

7. More information