ZAGREB, 21 January (Hina) – Members of the European Parliament on Thursday called on the European Commission to use all instruments available to help Croatia repair the damage caused by a string of quakes that hit the country last year and revitalise the affected areas that were neglected even before the disaster.
At a plenary session, MEPs discussed a motion for a resolution to mitigate the consequences of the earthquakes in Croatia, which is expected to be adopted unanimously in the afternoon.
The motion was initiated by Croatian MEP Valter Flego, with all Croatian MEPs taking part in drafting it.
Last year Croatia was struck by two strong earthquakes that were followed by a number of aftershocks. On 22 March, a 5.5 earthquake shook Zagreb and two adjacent counties, killing a 12-year-old girl and damaging over 26,000 buildings. On 29 December, a 6.2 earthquake struck Sisak-Moslavina County, killing seven people and demolishing over 30,000 buildings.
“Today MEPs from the left to the right of the political spectrum underlined the importance of EU membership and solidarity Croatia can count on,” said Dubravka Šuica, who took part in the discussion on behalf of the Commission.
She said that aid to the affected areas concerned her portfolio as well, which is demography, because those areas had witnessed a continued demographic decline even before the quakes.
“That is why it is important to renew the economy and infrastructure simultaneously with housing reconstruction so that people can stay in that area,” Šuica said, adding that during the reconstruction process account should also be taken of the digital and green transition in accordance with the EU’s priorities in the next budget period.
MEP Flego said that the resolution was very important because it required the Commission to do all it could to help Croatia, relying on the Solidarity Fund, the seven-year budget and the Civil Protection Mechanism.
“Croatia needs assistance right now, with as little bureaucracy and as much solidarity as possible,” Flego said, adding that he was glad that the other Croatian MEPs had joined this initiative to pass a resolution.
Karlo Ressler said: “This is a universal message of solidarity and hope to everyone in Croatia, to the earthquake victims, Croatian authorities, Croatian military, volunteers, to all those providing assistance on an ongoing basis.” He also highlighted the need to renew the economy and people’s livelihoods in the affected areas along with housing reconstruction.
Željana Zovko said that the Banovina region should be assisted in the same way as Zagreb, suggesting the use of new instruments being proposed by the Commission, such as the development of new environmentally-friendly and safe architecture known as the New European Bauhaus.
Fred Matić said that the most important message of the resolution was that all Croatian citizens could see the benefits of belonging to the large European family. “Even if we weren’t a member, we would probably receive aid, but being a full member I expect us to be well supported, and then it is up to us to make use of it,” he added.
Tonino Picula said that a natural disaster must not be allowed to turn into a social disaster in affected areas. “I am confident that aid will reach those that need it the most and that it will be used both to repair the damage and to revitalise the economy in order to make up for what failed to be done during post-war reconstruction,” he said.
The draft resolution “calls on the Commission, in cooperation with the EU and Croatian institutions, to devise a swift way of distributing the necessary financial and other assistance to ensure a speedy recovery of the affected areas.”
In approving financial aid, the Commission is called upon to take account of the fact that Croatia is at the same time also dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
Croatia is called upon “to prioritise renovation in its recovery and resilience plan, devoting particular attention to comprehensive preventative renovations that ensure the highest seismic standards for housing and buildings at greatest risk in its most earthquake-prone regions.”
The document says that the reconstruction process should be carried out as swiftly as possible, respecting transparency, applying best professional practices and taking account of the demographic aspect. Special focus should be placed on building the basic infrastructure that was lacking prior to the earthquake and access to basic needs and services should be promptly re-established in all parts of the affected areas.
The Commission is called upon to extend the 18-month time limit for the use of funds from the European Solidarity Fund in the event of a devastating earthquake.