Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to present the Commission's proposal aiming to help Member States hit by natural disasters.
We were all shaken by the tragic events of last year in Italy.
Together with President Juncker and the rest of Commissioners, I would like to voice Europe's full solidarity, as well as our eagerness to provide all possible support to Italy and the Italian regions that were affected.
Dear Members of REGI, I am sure you all support this endeavour.
Today it is Italy, but tomorrow it might be Germany or Spain. Any European country.
Therefore, whenever our citizens face natural disasters of such a magnitude, we must show and prove our solidarity.
Towards all Member States. Helping our fellow Europeans wherever they are.
We must show and prove that the EU wants to address the pressing needs of citizens.
That Europe cares.
That Europe is willing to act.
That Europe is able to act.
And that Europe can act very rapidly.
In short we need to restore citizens' confidence in the EU, and this proposal is a key element of our strategy for it.
The Commission has carefully examined and assessed all options that are available.
Let me assure you about this.
We believed that any solution should fulfil the following conditions:
First: it needs to send out a strong political signal of solidarity;
Then, it needs to be simple;
Third, it needs to provide quick and effective support
to whomever will need it in the future;
And finally, it needs to be transparent,
so that we can know how much money is invested
in response to the natural disaster.
Therefore, based on these four principles, we have proposed to apply a co-financing rate of up to 100%,
for projects aiming at reconstruction following a natural disaster, in line with the criteria set out under the Solidarity Fund.
These projects will need to be gathered in a separate priority of the programme; which means that we will have full visibility on the amount of money to be invested on such projects.
Moreover, this will also ensure that these projects complement each other, and are in line with the development goals of their programmes.
Last but not least, this approach will enable the Commission to have a clear picture of how the regions concerned introduce these new actions.
And this is because the establishment of new priorities, be it for addressing natural disasters or for any other purpose, absolutely requires Commission approval, in the context of a formal programme modification procedure.
And I can assure you that the Commission will pay close attention to whether such modification requests are soundly justified.
On the other hand, while it is a little early to talk about specific amounts, I would like to say here, as loudly as I can that we are not talking about billions of euros.
In fact, following out first assessments, the amounts are expected to be relatively small and impact on the overall co-financing requirement will be minimal, even at programme level.
At present, we are still waiting for the final proposal from the Italian authorities, regarding how funding from the technical adjustment will be allocated.
However, I understand that Italy intends to allocate around 200 [two-hundred] million euro extra
to the four regions most affected by last year's earthquakes.
Finally, we are not proposing any change to the eligibility rules that are already in place.
On the contrary, projects will cover construction and reconstruction activities that are already eligible under the Regional Development Fund.
In one word: we are not widening the rules.
Of course, I am aware that a number of you may feel unease with the possibility of 100% co-financing.
I understand your concerns. But let me provide the following clarifications:
First, the co-financing principle is a fundamental pillar of our policy and should therefore be preserved.
To say it clearly and loudly: the Commission does not want to eliminate or weaken it.
Second: there are already some limited cases, where a 100% co-financing is possible, to ensure a speedy implementation of investments in these areas, like the Youth Employment Initiative and the SME Initiative.
And third, 100% co-financing is already possible for individual projects.
So it is not as new or radical, as some have suggested.
In fact, by allowing it for one priority, we ensure, above all, maximum visibility and political impact for the EU in providing support to those in need.
And this is also why this solution is more appropriate than a mere "top-up".
In any case, our proposal is not a "blank check", as:
The full financing only applies for reconstruction after a disaster;
It can only be implemented within a single new priority
in each programme; and
The scope and content of such a priority
would have to be agreed by the Commission, as usual;
And last but not least: there is no change on eligibility rules.
These are cohesion policy projects, in line with the regulations adopted by the Parliament and the Council. The only novelty is that we can support up to 100%.
For these reasons, I am convinced that the Commission's proposal is appropriate to our common objective to show that Europe helps those who need it most.
We need to give a signal, and this proposal is the right signal, right now.
Therefore, I am counting on you to move this rapidly through the adoption process.
Last week I was in Norcia. I met those people whom have lost everything - everything - in the earthquake:
Old people living in temporary accommodations,
children whose school is a compound of containers,
local businesses trying to recover from the disaster…
Let me tell you as clearly as I can: those people have faith in us, they trust the European Union to help!
And I have told them that Europe WILL help!
Now more than ever in our history, we must send them a message: Europe cares, Europe works!