Europe is built on solidarity. I often think of the European Union as a big family, whose strength is given by the collaborative will of its members. And as in a family, when one of the members is affected by a grave tragedy, the others come together and offer their support. The Solidarity Fund is one of the EU’s support tools, which provides financial support for the recovery of the areas affected by severe disasters.
Such a disaster can strike at any time and when it is least expected. Take, for example, Portugal: the country saw great tragedies, but it has benefited already twice since the creation of the fund in 2002, for the first time in July 2003, following forest fires, and in February 2010, after the landslides and floods that affected the island of Madeira. This magnificent island in the Atlantic was the place of a tragedy this summer again, as forest fires torn apart some of its beauty. I was saddened to see the devastation of many homes, public buildings and infrastructure, but I am glad that the Portuguese authorities filed an application for assistance from the Solidarity Fund, so that in due time, and if all requirements are met, the island can benefit from EU's financial support for restoration and recovery works.
But the EU’s support tools do not stop at the Solidarity Fund. As in a real family we reckon the particular needs of all our constituents. An example is the Outermost Regions, those regions that are geographically far from the European continent. Due to their remoteness, insularity, small size, difficult topography and climate, and economic dependence on a few products, the EU designed specific measures to help them address the challenges they face. Madeira is one of the nine such regions of the European Union and I was there during the past days at the 21st Annual Conference of the Outermost Regions Presidents, with the wish to confirm once again the support for these regions. The European Commission is committed to answer the particular issues that the Outermost Regions face, allocating 13.2 billion Euro of EU funds for the period 2014 - 2020. Moreover, and this is something that I specifically emphasized during my speech, these regions can secure further investments by presenting projects for funding from the European Fund for Strategic Investments. I encouraged them to make full use of these opportunities, especially as we are near the middle of the programming period.
Of course, there is always more that can be done also from Brussels and I used the opportunity of being with the leaders of these regions to get fresh insights into what troubles their regions and their inhabitants. We carry a fruitful dialogue, which will continue in March next year during the Outermost Regions Forum, in Brussels. The constructive feedback I received now and next year will help us in working on a renewed EU strategy for the Outermost Regions in late 2017. Because we care about the needs of all of EU’s regions, and we cherish and wish for their contribution to the development of our family. And because we know that these regions might be far away from Brussels, but they are as European as the EU capital itself.