Portugal was severely hit by a series of deadly forest fires this year; in June first, then again in July and August, and finally last October again. In all, the wildfires took some 100 lives and destroyed over 350,000 hectares of land.
As I was already in Portugal for the meeting of the Council of the Party of European Socialists, I felt I simply had to travel the "centro" region, where the fires were at their most violent, in order to meet and listen to local officials, yes, but also to those inhabitants whom were the victims of the disaster.
To the latter, I conveyed a message of support and hope. I wanted to tell them, individually, that they were not alone, that the concept of European solidarity was not a hollow concept, quite the contrary, it is real, concrete, and long-term.
Indeed, from the first outbreak of the fires, the EU's civil protection mechanism was triggered: 14 planes, about 300 firefighters and almost 60 vehicles from other Member States rushed to the Centro region.
Furthermore, as Portugal triggered the EU's Solidarity Fund, the Commission already paid 1.5 million Euros in advance to help with prevention and reconstruction work. And Europe's support does not stop at this as the Centro region can redirect some of its allocated EU funds to bringing the areas damaged by fires back to life.
European funding could go to setting up a video warning system, to awareness-raising campaigns and other measures to prevent such disasters. This is solidarity at its best as EU funding comes from contributions from every member states. Thus, it is the whole of Europe that supports Portugal in this tragic moment.
Too often, people think that cohesion policy limits itself to investing in "bricks and steal" to building bridges, roads and railway lines. This is partly true, but equally importantly cohesion policy helps our regions to be prepared for natural disasters, and to recover after disasters.