Local view for "http://purl.org/linkedpolitics/eu/plenary/2003-09-01-Speech-1-067"

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"Mr President, I should like to start by thanking the Commission for its prompt and generous response to the Portuguese Government’s appeal for help in minimising the cost of the damage caused by the fires. Although President Cox is not here, I hope that the President of the Bureau will pass on my thanks to him for his speedy responses to the letters written to him by my Portuguese fellow Members from all parties, including my own. Our letter was drafted by my colleague Mr Coelho and signed by several of us. I thank Mr Cox for his swift response to our appeals, and also the chairmen of the political groups for their quick decision to hold this emergency debate on the heatwave, in particular on its most visible effect, the fires, but also on its other harmful consequences. I would like to make a brief appeal to the Commissioner and also to the goodwill of this House concerning what is at stake in Portugal. Everyone knows that there is short-term damage here — visible, immediate damage — and also long-term damage, which is nevertheless just as important. We have an objective assessment of the short-term damage, which runs to about EUR one billion. On the basis of that assessment, which was drawn up and presented to the Commission, Portugal is eligible to claim almost EUR 100 million (around EUR 95 million) from the European Union Solidarity Fund. The Portuguese Government submitted an application for around half of the amount for which it was eligible, and the Commission proposed an aid package of EUR 32 million. We are not denying that this aid is useful and very important, but it is much less than is needed. The first and principal reason for this is the scale of the disaster: almost 1% of our gross national product is at stake and this year’s fires were as serious as those of the last ten years put together. Dealing with this is beyond our capabilities, bearing in mind, on top of everything else, that we are having to conform to a rigid financial mechanism, namely the Stability Pact. The second aspect to consider is that of the long-term effects, which will be key in the future, since the affected areas are poor regions in the interior of the country where forestry was the main source of employment. We now have to think about setting in motion economic support mechanisms, both as part of this Community support, restructuring and reworking framework and, in future, within the next Community support framework, the common agricultural policy, regional development policy and rural development policy. A key point, with which I will conclude, Mr President: it is clear here that something more than a forestry strategy for the European Union is needed. It is also clear that Mediterranean woodland is at much greater risk than northern European woodland. We must go much further, and the Commission has to reconsider its Forest Focus proposal, which is completely inadequate for preventing damage to woodland."@en1

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