Empty Fund EU Lacks Money for Flood Aid

Germany and several of its neighbors have been battling record flooding for days. But the European Union said on Wednesday that the aid fund for such disasters is depleted. The bloc's budget deadlock means that Central Europe will have to go it alone.
Parts of Germany have been underwater for days, including this road near Meissen.

Parts of Germany have been underwater for days, including this road near Meissen.


The European Union in recent days has been quick to pledge rapid aid to Germany and other Central European countries as they seek to battle record flooding this week. But on Wednesday, European Budget Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski said that the promises may have been a bit premature. The bloc's Solidarity Fund, he said, is empty.

"The scale of the catastrophe is absolutely beyond the reimbursement (possible) in these countries. We are without resources, for sure, for the European Solidarity Fund," Lewandowski told journalists in Brussels on Wednesday. "In 2013 it is not possible."

In addition, the EU will not be able to produce the amount of aid requested by the United Nations for Syria, the commissioner said. The UN recently asserted that the war-torn country was in need of at least €3 billion. "There is a big effort (from the EU), but certainly not to the amount the UN is expecting," Lewandowski said.

The shortage is a direct result of the budget gridlock that has been plaguing the European Union in recent months. The EU has been trying without success to agree on a budget for the seven-year period from 2014 to 2020. Although the size of the Solidarity Fund for 2013 is not explicitly up for discussion, the European Commission has asked member states for supplementary funding of €11.2 billion to cover expenses from both this year and last year.


Photo Gallery: Floods Sweep through Central Europe

Foto: Armin Weigel/ dpa

Member states have balked at the amount and have offered instead to provide €7.3 billion -- but only if the European Parliament climbs down from its hard-line position in ongoing budget negotiations. EU leaders agreed to a slimmed-down 2014-2020 budget in February, well below the over €1 trillion the Commission had originally asked for. But the European Parliament rejected the compromise in March.

London has also registered its opposition to the supplementary funding for the Solidarity Fund. In May, the Telegraph quoted an unnamed British diplomat as saying: "The UK and a number of other countries think that this budget demand is totally unjustified. At a time when EU countries are taking difficult decisions to reduce public spending, the Commission is coming forward with unacceptable proposals for an inflated EU budget."

Lewandowski raised the possibility on Wednesday that the member states currently being slammed by widespread flooding, including Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and Hungary, could be reimbursed by the Solidarity Fund next year. But he was clearly dissatisfied with the idea.

"How can we explain to flooding victims … as well as to the Syrian refugees, that the EU wants to help them, but that the help will only arrive later because of too-rigid budgetary rules?" he asked.

cgh -- with wire reports