The President of the Government of the Canary Islands, Ángel Víctor Torres, announced on the 21st his intention to present a formal candidacy to request that the island of La Palma be classified as a catastrophic zone in order to join the European Union Solidarity Fund ( FSUE). But what does this fund consist of? What is its purpose and scope? Does the La Palma catastrophe meet the requirements to be a candidate?
One week after the eruption that kept La Palma in suspense: “I have already made up my mind that I am going to lose my house”
The EU Solidarity Fund was established in 2002 in response to the floods that severely hit several regions of central Europe. So far, the EUSF has been used in 80 catastrophes, including floods, wildfires, earthquakes or storms. In Spain there have been four natural catastrophes for which the use of these funds has been approved. The first time, in 2003, European funding was used to face the environmental crisis caused by the leakage of the Prestige oil tanker, off the Galician coast. Later, in 2011, the FSUE provided support to deal with the consequences of the earthquake in Lorca (Murcia) that affected 1,798 homes. Both events should serve as a precedent for the recovery and structural repair process on La Palma.
The real human crisis caused by the Cumbre Vieja volcano will not end when the land grants a truce, but when the families who have lost their homes have a decent alternative and the farmers and ranchers have continued support from the administrations until they recover their economic activity. All this goes through coordination between the Cabildo de La Palma, the Government of the Canary Islands, the national Government and the European Commission.
Through the EUSF, a total of up to € 500 million per year can be mobilized, in addition to the EU budget, plus the unused endowment from the previous year, as a complement to public spending on emergency operations in the Member State in question. Applications must reach the Commission within twelve weeks from the date of the first damage caused by the catastrophe. To expedite the processing of the request, it is recommended that the body in charge of preparing it contact directly the competent unit of the Directorate General for Regional Policy, which will offer its advice for this purpose.
On September 21, Ángel Víctor Torres announced that he had established contact with the EU Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira, in order to start the application processing process.
How does the EU Solidarity Fund work?
The EUSF mainly makes it possible to provide assistance in the event of a natural disaster with significant repercussions on living conditions, human health, the natural environment or the economy of one or more regions of a Member State or of a candidate country for accession. A natural catastrophe is considered “serious” if it causes direct damage with an impact of more than 3,000 million or more than 0.6% of the gross national income of the State in question.
In the case of the Cumbre Vieja volcano, this category cannot be applied, as it does not reach the thresholds of repercussion at the national level. However, the EUSF also foresees actions in cases of regional natural catastrophe when it causes direct damage of more than 1.5% of the gross domestic product (GDP) of that region.
In the case of the Canary Islands, as it is an ultra-peripheral region, the threshold stands at 1% of its GDP. In 2019, the archipelago’s annual GDP amounted to 47,164 million euros, an approximate figure with which it is safer to work, due to the exceptionality of the 2020 data as a result of the pandemic. Based on these data, the threshold for classifying the situation that occurs on La Palma as a regional natural catastrophe would be 471.64 million euros.
At the moment, the lava flows have affected about 500 buildings, razed farming areas, roads and schools … all this in an area of more than 200 hectares. Consequently, it is a sad reality that the damage caused will exceed this limit. Therefore, it can be affirmed that the request of the Government of the Canary Islands to obtain financing through the EU Solidarity Fund will have the green light.
However, the most important thing is the distribution of these funds, which act in the form of a subsidy and serve to complement the expenditure of the Spanish administrations. First of all, European legislation establishes that the EUSF may be used for urgent measures, including the provision of temporary accommodation and financing of relief services, the immediate assurance of prevention infrastructures and the cleaning of damaged areas.
Although emergency measures can be retroactively funded, the grant allocation procedure can take several months. Due to the nature of this fund and its use during the COVID-19 pandemic, a legislative amendment took place in 2020, allowing 25% of the total amount to be obtained in the form of an advance.
According to Ángel Víctor Torres, the financing will be aimed mainly at the replacement of public infrastructures such as roads, schools, water networks and temporary accommodation for people who have been forced to leave their homes. However, the management of this crisis has only just begun. When the cameras leave the place, the authorities have dispatched their official communication on the matter and a relative calm returns to the palm soil, it will be time to act, to prioritize the needs of the population and not to leave anyone behind.