Correspondence with Ministers November 2007 to April 2008 - European Union Committee Contents


Letter from Tom Watson MP, Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 25 July 2006,[4] 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  As you may be aware, the European Commission has withdrawn the proposal for a regulation establishing the EU Solidarity Fund.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 criteria.

  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

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