European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is on a visit to Cyprus to boost post-pandemic recovery efforts, but the EU chief also grabbed an opportunity to tell a local community affected by last weekend’s deadly fire that Europe was at their side.
The EU chief landed at Larnaca International Airport on Wednesday, beginning a two-day visit on the island to deliver the Commission's approval of the Cypriot government’s recovery and resilience national plan. The disbursement of EU funds will also depend on crucial reform in many areas, a legislative issue that parliament has been unable to resolve.
But the start of the visit centered around the aftermath of a deadly wildfire over the weekend, with von der Leyen and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades paying a visit to Larnaca’s Ora community where they addressed a local crowd.
Von der Leyen praised the Cypriot government’s decision to allocate €18 million for firefighting equipment out of the Cyprus National Recovery and Resilience Plan
“We have seen the horrible pictures, the devastating forces of the fire. And I want to let you know, you have seen it here but we have seen in Europe and the whole of Europe was feeling with you and was at your side and is at your side,” von der Leyen said.
The Commission President told her audience she came with a heavy heart because she heard the community had lost four young people in Saturday’s fire.
Four seasonal farm workers from Egypt were killed in the fire when they were trapped while trying to escape the inferno, with reports saying the rapid spread of fire and an abandoned vehicle blocking the road made their evacuation an impossible task.
Anastasiades said von der Leyen’s presence in Ora was tangible proof that problems EU member states are facing remain important, adding that the disaster over the weekend was something that moved both the European Union but also the Commission President.
Von der Leyen also said an EU rescue plan was set in motion immediately, adding that she hoped planes sent to the island had been helpful.
She also praised the Cypriot government’s decision to allocate €18 million for firefighting equipment out of the Cyprus National Recovery and Resilience Plan, the approval of which is expected to be announced on Thursday.
The Commission President has already visited a number of EU members to deliver the Commission’s official approval on those states’ Recovery and Resilience national plans.