The European Commission adopted on Tuesday (8 March) a proposal for Cohesion’s Action for Refugees in Europe (CARE) that would allow EU countries and regions to provide emergency support to people fleeing from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Today’s proposals will make it easier and faster to mobilise Cohesion funds to help people fleeing the war in Ukraine, as well as to support the member states and frontline regions welcoming them,” said Cohesion and Reforms Commissioner Elisa Ferreira.
The proposal brings additional flexibility to finance a wide range of measures supporting refugees, from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Fund for the European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD).
CARE will allow a swift reallocation of available funding to support people fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by introducing the necessary flexibility in the 2014-2020 Cohesion policy rules.
The initiative follows a similar move of the Commission in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
Then, the European executive loosened rules of the bloc’s cohesion policy, a structural investment scheme representing about a third of the EU’s budget, in order to allow unspent money from the 2014-2020 funding period to be rebudgeted to address the immediate fallout from the pandemic.
Tuesday’s proposal would further expand the scope of the cohesion loosened rules to allow leftover money from the previous budget to be used to support Ukrainian refugees while promising to reduce paperwork.
The emergency support will cover the basic needs of people fleeing Ukraine, including food and water supplies, clothing as well as investments in education, employment, housing, health and childcare services.
“Member states will be able to use Cohesion funding to support refugees in finding jobs, starting or continuing education, and accessing childcare,” Schmit specified, adding that support for counselling, training and psychological assistance can also be received.
“To ease national budgetary pressures, notably due to the extended impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the possibility of 100% EU co-financing for 2014-2020 Cohesion policy funding” will be extended by a year, the Commission said in a press release.
Additionally, EU countries will be eligible for EU support retroactively as of 24 February, the start date of the Russian invasion, for all actions helping refugees.
Cohesion policy support will complement the support from the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) and other funding sources, the Commission’s communication said.
On Tuesday, the Commission also proposed to prolong the implementation period for the money available to the member states under the 2014-2020 Home Affairs funds, which would release around €420 million in additional support.
Moreover, around €10 billion from the 2022 tranche of REACT-EU, a fund created to act as a bridge between COVID emergency measures and normal cohesion funds, is available and can also be used to finance actions to support those fleeing Ukraine.
EURACTIV understands that this could mean a total of about €20 billion in EU support for Ukrainian refugees, though any final amount will depend how effective EU countries are at re-allocating the funds.
Jobs and Social Rights Commissioner Nicolas Schmit said that “funding from the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived will also be crucial to provide much-needed food and basic material assistance”.
The proposed amendments of the Common Provisions Regulation and the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived Regulation require adoption by the European Parliament and the Council.
Commissioner Ferreira invited the European Parliament and the Council “to swiftly consider this proposal so that the member states and regions can make use of these new opportunities as quickly as possible”.
Need for long-term solutions
“It makes absolute sense to repurpose unused money in this way since cohesion funding is all about rebuilding during times of crisis”, conservative MEP from the European People’s Party Andrey Novakov said in a statement in the run-up to the announcement.
However, not everyone agrees. “The thing is that cohesion policy is not a tool for crisis support, it is a tool of strategic planning. And that’s why we have a seven-year plan,” Green MEP Niklas Nienass told EURACTIV.
In the German politician’s view, the EU “luckily” was at the end of a 7-year budgetary period when the crises hit, so there was some money left over that could be reallocated to tackle the challenges of the pandemic and the refugees seeking shelter in Europe.
If another crisis hits in the next three years, according to Nienass, the EU could face the choice of being short on money to tackle the problem or watering down its long-term structural investment plans to rechannel money where it is needed.
“So we need to think about an effective tool that gives the possibility to react to certain circumstances” that would not effect the normal budget, he said.
The action taken
Last week Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that €500 million from the EU budget is being directed to address the humanitarian consequences of the war, both inside Ukraine and beyond.
Last Friday (4 March), the EU activated the Temporary Protection Directive for the first time in 20 years, to bring clarity and security to people in need, offering rights to welfare support, access to the job market and education.
Additionally, the Commission has issued operational guidelines to help member states’ border guards efficiently manage refugees at the borders with Ukraine and reduce waiting time while maintaining a high level of security.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]