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Europe set to push off on recovery fund

By JULIAN SHEA in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-06-17 09:29

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn (not pictured) give a news conference on on NextGenerationEU, the Recovery Plan for Europe at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, on June 15, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

The European Union is poised to approve the first of the national economic recovery plans it hopes will inject new life into the bloc's member states, with Spain and Portugal the first beneficiaries of the Next Generation EU fund.

The European Commission website describes the fund, which it hopes will future-proof member states against the effects of events such as the pandemic and the financial crisis of 2008, as "a once in a lifetime chance to emerge stronger from the pandemic, transform our economies, create opportunities and jobs for the Europe where we want to live. We have everything to make this happen".

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrived on Wednesday in Portugal. After that, she was scheduled in Spain later in the day. She plans to visit Greece, Denmark and Luxembourg this week.

The commission said 20 billion euros ($24.2 billion) has been raised through a 10-year bond program, which von der Leyen said was "attractively" priced and would result in low interest payments for the EU.

"Europe is attractive," The Associated Press news agency quoted her as saying. "By the end of this year, we expect to have issued around 100 billion in bonds and bills."

Resilience plans

Member states have submitted recovery and resilience plans to the commission, explaining how they would spend money from the Recovery and Resilience Facility, which has 672.5 billion euros to share. Projects such as digitalization and reducing carbon emissions are major priorities.

The Financial Times reports Spain is in line for 70 billion euros in grants and 70 billion euros in loans over the next five years as it tries to recover from a 10.8 percent contraction of its economy in 2020, caused by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Portugal is expected to receive 14 billion euros in grants and 2.6 billion in loans, with Italy's funding likely to be signed off later in the week.

The eurozone suffered a 6.6 percent economic slump in 2020, but the commission hopes with the help of the fund, countries should recover by the end of next year. This means though the countries must live up to the promises made in their plans for spending fund money, which in the case of Spain, have already proved to be divisive.

"Implementation is key," said Guntram Wolff, director of the Bruegel think tank, told the FT newspaper. "At the end of the day, you have to put (the plans) into place, and that means overcoming some domestic resistance. That is the challenge."

Spain's plans include a focus on electric vehicles and the rollout of 5G phone networks, which Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo told the FT would mean the country would rise to "where it deserves to be in terms of development and competitiveness… a super-modern country".

But political opponents have warned of the huge potential for waste, saying impractical projects are being revived just because of the availability of new funds.

Agencies contributed to this story.

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