BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European officials are puzzled over why Britain has not applied for cash from an EU Solidarity Fund to help cope with catastrophic flooding in southwestern England.
Even Germany, the EU’s wealthiest member state, tapped the then newly created fund for tens of millions of euros after it suffered a flooding disaster in 2002, along with several other central European countries.
But so far, Brussels hasn’t received any application from London, where the idea of going cap-in-hand to Europe at a time of tension over Britain’s future in the bloc is bound to make any such request politically sensitive.
Prime Minister David Cameron declared on Tuesday that money would be no object to fighting the floods that have cut off southwestern villages for weeks and forced thousands of people from their homes in Berkshire, west of London.
His government, under fire from critics for what ministers have acknowledged was a slow initial response, has deployed the armed forces to evacuate residents and shore up river defenses.
Asked whether Britain would ask for EU money, Cameron’s official spokesman told reporters on Wednesday the government was looking at every source of possible funding, playing down the idea that there was anything political behind it.
Under EU rules, a country has 10 weeks from the first damage caused by a natural disaster to request aid.
A person close to Cameron said there were technical grounds to do with spending thresholds that determined when to apply for a grant. Britain had no desire to get into a war of words with Brussels on the matter, he said.
The solidarity fund – which Britain pays into via its contribution to the EU budget — has disbursed 3.5 billion euros to 23 countries. It has helped fight forest fires in Portugal and Greece as well as the impact of earthquakes and drought.
The leader of the UK Independence Party, which campaigns for Britain to leave the EU, said if money was available from the fund, the government should take it.
“It’s our money anyway,” Nigel Farage told Reuters, noting that Britain was a net contributor to the union’s budget.
“All I have said… is that if an application is to be made, I don’t think it should be made by me,” he joked.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Owborn; writing by Paul Taylor; editing by Luke Baker)