The European Commission has today [Wednesday] adopted a proposal to help restore rural areas in the Czech Republic and Slovakia which have been heavily affected by the floods in mid August.

In order to achieve this the Commission wants to amend the pre-accession instrument for agriculture SAPARD in such a way that the ceiling of public aid would be increased from 50% to 75% and the EU contribution from 75% to 85% of this public aid part for relevant SAPARD projects in the rural areas affected.

"We stand by the farmers and rural communities so severely hit by these floods. This proposal will also allow us to better respond to such exceptional natural disasters in the candidate countries in the future. I hope that this proposal will be swiftly adopted by the member states and the European Parliament," said EU Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler.

In mid August 2002 considerable damage was caused by floods in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia. The Commission considers that the EU needs to be able to respond appropriately to such exceptional natural disasters whenever they occur in candidate countries through various instruments including the pre-accession programme SAPARD.

Under the existing rules, SAPARD does not have any specific provisions relating to actions in the wake of natural disasters. The Commission believes that actions to help restore rural areas fall under the scope of the SAPARD regulation. Consequently, the Commission proposes that specific provisions should be made to increase the ceiling on public aid from 50 to 75%, and the EU contribution from 75 to 85% of public aid for relevant projects in areas affected by natural disasters.