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Brussels vows 'maximum flexibility' to help Slovenia rebuild after floods

A flooded area is seen in Crna na Koroskem, Slovenia, Aug. 6, 2023.
A flooded area is seen in Crna na Koroskem, Slovenia, Aug. 6, 2023. Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Alice Tidey
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The Eastern European country will be able to repurpose EU funds to cover its immediate and long-term needs after deadly floods unleashed considerable damage.

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The European Commission will show "maximum flexibility" and create a special task force to ensure Slovenia gets the funds it needs to rebuild after flooding devastated the country, Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday.

"Europe stands by your side," the Commission president said after visiting the most impacted areas and describing the devastation as "heartbreaking".

She stressed that European solidarity will extend to financial support to cover the immediate as well as medium- and long-term needs of the country. 

A €400 million package is to be made accessible immediately via the EU Solidarity Fund, including €100 million to be disbursed this year with the remainder earmarked for 2024. But to access the money, Slovenia needs to make a request and provide a first damage assessment, the Commission chief said. 

Billions can be 'reprogrammed'

Slovenia can also request the disbursement of the €2.7 billion it still has available under NexGenerationEU, the €800 billion post-COVID stimulus package designed to boost the European economy and make it more resilient to technological and climate challenges. 

But von der Leyen stressed that "here too time is of the essence because this request has to be made before the end of August".

With Slovenian Prime Minister Robert Golob, the Commission agreed to create a task force to work on the requirements to make sure the request is made on time. 

The country can also "reprogramme" €3.3 billion of cohesion funds it has allocated until 2027 to deal with the aftermath of the disaster. 

"A maximum of flexibility will be needed because a lot has been programmed, for example, in cohesion funds, and I'm convinced that some of the projects are not existing anymore," she said.

'Worst-ever natural disaster'

The country of two million inhabitants was hit by severe floods over the weekend following torrential rain on Friday over roughly two-thirds of the country. According to Slovenia’s weather service, a month's worth of rain fell in less than a day taking the weekly rainfall accumulation in some areas to 200mm. 

The flooding has been described as the country's "worst-ever natural disaster".

The rain caused rivers to swell and burst, destroying houses, roads and bridges and triggering warnings of possible mudslides. 

Six people, including two Dutch tourists, are known to have died, and hundreds were left homeless with roughly 8,000 people in the north and east of the country forced to evacuate. 

Slovenia activated the EU Civil Protection Mechanism on 6 August and has so far received assistance from seven fellow EU countries.

France, Germany, Croatia, Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Italy together provided excavators, mobile bridges, helicopters as well as emergency and engineering equipment and personnel.

NATO, of which Slovenia is also a member, is also sending help. Jens Stoltenberg, the military alliance's Secretary General, told Slovenia's prime minister on Monday that "upon Slovenia’s request for assistance, NATO’s disaster response coordination centre immediately notified all 31 Allies and 35 partners of your needs."

The US has deployed staff to Ljubljana "to assess the situation and determine urgent humanitarian needs", the NATO statement said. 

Von der Leyen is also scheduled to speak to an extraordinary plenary session of the Slovenian National Assembly during her visit to the country on Wednesday.

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