Recovery plan: a decisive week for Brussels

Accused of slowness, the EU should take an important step next week to release the 672 billion euros promised in the face of the pandemic. German justice lifted a big obstacle on April 21 by rejecting an appeal that threatened the ratification of the project by Berlin. The next day, Portugal was the first country to submit its case. “It’s been a very good week”, rejoices a senior European official.

Next week, ” a dozen “ other national recovery plans must be presented, including that of France on Wednesday April 28. This will allow the Commission to finally start the formal examination of each country’s investment and reform plans, which is to last two months, before a green light from the European Council representing the Member States, which will take up to four additional weeks. .

“Our objective remains to adopt all the plans by the summer”Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Thursday. If all goes well, “We will see the money flow in July”, with the payment of pre-financing representing 13% of total aid, we assure the Commission, that is to say one year after the historic agreement of the Twenty-Seven!

A historic project

On an unprecedented scale, with 672 billion euros in grants and loans, the mechanism financed for the first time by a common recourse to borrowing, embodies European solidarity in the face of the Covid-19 crisis. But Europe suffers from the comparison with the United States where more massive aid was released faster, while a faster vaccination campaign has allowed the American economy to take a lead.

“I see that the American cavalry is arriving on time, that the money is there, it is in the United States. I would like the European cavalry to arrive on time as well ”, was annoyed in early April the French Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire. On Thursday, the President of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, again insisted on “The emergency” to implement the support plan.

37% of investments will concern the environment

Spain and Italy should be the main beneficiaries with nearly 70 billion euros each, ahead of France (nearly 40 billion).

On the investment side, at least 37% of investments must relate to the environment, in particular the fight against climate change, and 20% the digital transition. The money will help finance the thermal renovation of buildings, railway projects, charging stations for electric vehicles, high-speed telecommunications networks or even data storage infrastructures, etc.

structural reforms required in return

But, to ensure the proper use of public funds, the Commission is also asking Member States to commit to structural reforms, with a detailed two-year timetable. Potentially concerned are the ongoing reform of unemployment insurance in France, a reform of the labor market in Spain, cuts in public spending in Italy, etc.

In addition, negotiations with Member States are still ongoing, particularly with Hungary, whose Prime Minister Viktor Orban came to meet Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels on Friday.

Budapest, criticized for its breaches of the rule of law, threatened last year to block the European recovery plan. Rule of law or corruption issues are “Very central elements” required reforms, said a European official on Friday.

Mr Orban badly needs the 7 billion in subsidies allocated to Hungary. But he has a trump card up his sleeve. His country is one of the nine Member States that have not yet ratified the European recovery plan. However, no payment will be possible without the green light from everyone.

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