The European Commission is ready to stand by Greece as it struggles with the aftermath of the recent devastating fires and floods, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday, during her meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Strasbourg. She spoke of five funding streams that could be mobilised to assist Greece, such as funding from the Common Agricultural Policy, unspent money from previous periods, the EU Solidarity Fund and others.
“If we look at those funds, they could, for example, help restore forests or farming infrastructure. A lot needs to be done. Altogether, this could allow Greece to mobilise up to 2.25 billion euros,” Von der Leyen said.
“I am simply appalled by the recent disasters that struck Greece and its people….floods have devastated large regions of Greece. For example, the plains of Thessaly. The pictures from Larissa are heartbreaking. Let me assure you that our thoughts are with all women, men and children who are courageously withstanding these disasters. And we mourn the lives lost,” the European Commission President said.
“Europe stands at the side of the Greek people. And I want Greece and the Greek people to know that we are with them. Our Union is a Union of solidarity. It was therefore very important for us to be able to meet here today – Kyriakos, many thanks for coming – and to discuss this solidarity together with your Ministers and our Commissioners. We spoke about the best ways to help the Greek people. A lot of investment will be necessary to rebuild. But right now a lot of immediate support and help is also necessary to restore the livelihoods. My main message is that the Commission will be inventive, quick and flexible: We will mobilise all EU resources that can be deployed,” von der Leyen stated, referring to five important funding streams that could be mobilised.
Among these she mentioned unspent cohesion money from the previous period and frontloading current cohesion funds, mobilising the European Social Fund+, using the funds available under the Common Agricultural Policy, support from the EU Solidarity Fund and resources from the NextGenerationEU.
“My services will work closely on all these options with the Greek authorities. We have decided to form a Task Force that will start its work immediately, today. Together we will find the best possible ways to help the Greek people. The Greek people can count on Europe for fast support, maximal flexibility. And we stand by your side not only in this acute moment but also to rebuild and reconstruct,” she said.
Mitsotakis, on his part, thanked the Commission president for the speed of her response and for standing by Greece in difficult times, pointing out the gravity of the situation and the fact that Greece had suffered two very major disasters in one month – the huge fire in Evros, which was the greatest in the history of Europe, followed by Storm Daniel and the worst floods in the history of the country and of Europe.
Mitsotakis expressed his condolences to the people that lost their loved ones and thanked the emergency services, civil protection staff and volunteers that were still actively operating in the area of Thessaly and Central Greece.
The Greek prime minister showed photographs of flooded areas before and after, noting that destruction of this sort has never been seen before. He also stressed that the priority was to protect people’s lives and property.
“Our priority is for them to return to their homes, their businesses – and we rely on Europe’s support. Fortunately our economy is in a very good state and we are able to cover the immediate needs without deviating from budget targets,” he said.
Mitsotakis said that there were European funds that have not been used and part of this support will be received by people in the coming weeks. “We are reprogramming the EU financing instruments for the coming financing period. More than two billion will be needed to rebuild all that was destroyed. With what we are seeing, all that we knew until now no longer applies and this also concerns EU resources and tools for helping the Greeks, given the major climate change,” he said.
He noted that the EU Solidarity Fund had not allowed for such extensive disasters and did not have that kind of capital, adding that it was a personal commitment to strive to increase the funding for helping countries and mobilising additional funds in the case of such disasters caused by the climate crisis.
“The important thing is to not lose hope. Europe will support our country and I want to thank you for the speed with which you responded to my request. We have already set up a Task Force that will do the detailed work to overcome the classic bureaucratic obstacles so that European funds reach Greece sooner,” he said.
The statements followed a meeting between a delegation of government ministers led by Mitsotakis and EU Commissioners to discuss European support for Greece. The ministers included National Economy and Finance Minister Kostis Hatzidakis, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Christos Staikouras, Rural Development and Foods Minister Lefteris Avgenakis, Alternate National Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Papathanassis and Deputy National Economy and Finance Minister Thanos Petralias.
Participants from the European Commission included Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis, Vice President Margaritis Schinas, Commissioner for Budget and Administration Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for the Economy Paolo Gentiloni, Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski and Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms Elisa Ferreira.
Mitsotakis is next scheduled to meet the president of the European People’s Party (EPP) Manfred Weber.