PP, Ciudadanos and Vox join forces in Europe to tighten control of recovery funds
EPP leader Manfred Weber and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in the European Parliament.picture alliance / Getty Images

Popular, liberal and ultra-conservative have allied themselves in the European Parliament to try to impose a scrutiny of the national recovery plans that could expose their execution to an endless political battle. The European People’s Party is promoting a resolution requiring the Commission to report to Parliament, including in writing, on its “prior evaluation” of the programs. The proposal has the support of Renew, where Ciudadanos is framed, and ECR, where Vox is active. The left sees it as a maneuver to control that the Commission remains firm with the southern countries, especially Spain and Italy.

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After weeks, and in some cases, months of dialogue with the capitals, the European Commission technicians hoped to be able to isolate themselves to analyze in maximum detail the recovery plans that the countries have begun to send. The timetable that Brussels has set is to start publishing the evaluations of these programs the second week of June and begin to distribute the first aid from the fund in July, which will mobilize up to 800,000 million euros.

However, the leader of the popular Europeans, Manfred Weber, demands light and stenographers in each of the steps taken by the Commission. And for this he wants all information, including information on pre-assessments, to go through Parliament before the national plans are given the green light. The same process would be repeated for each of the planned semi-annual disbursements charged to the recovery fund.

Conservatives justify it in an exercise of transparency, but several parliamentary sources believe that the right asks for the evaluations prior to the final opinion because it distrusts that the European Commission will raise its hand if it detects that countries are haggling over structural reforms.

The new procedure, if accepted by the Commission, could turn the approval of plans and subsequent disbursements into a minefield of political battles, with a crossfire between political colors and national sensibilities. In its initial proposal for the fund, the Commission tried to avoid this risk and proposed a rapid approval system in which the body chaired by Ursula von der Leyen would always take the lead. But pressure from some governments, such as the Dutch, forced the introduction of an added possibility of control through the Council, which could complicate or delay the release of funds whose usefulness lies, among other things, in their rapid implementation. The added control of Parliament proposed by the EPP threatens to further complicate the release of some items that, at the earliest, will arrive in the second half of 2021, a year and a half after the outbreak of the pandemic.

Manfred Weber transferred his proposal for additional control to the Conference of Presidents, the meeting of the heads of the parliamentary groups with the president of the European Parliament, David Sassoli. Before the meeting, the German sent an email to the rest of the political leaders warning that he would raise this matter. “The European Parliament has to defend its prerogatives and insist on its right to information, access to relevant documents and total transparency,” said the email, in which it attached the draft of a resolution to take to the plenary session of the Chamber .

Misgivings on the left

According to parliamentary sources, the groups of Renew (in which Ciudadanos is integrated) and ECR (in which Vox is) supported the proposal. On the other hand, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and the Greens rejected it by validating the Commission’s commitment to submit all documents simultaneously to the Chamber and the Council. According to parliamentary sources, the left even proposed to resolve that demand with a letter. The right, conservatives and liberals, however, add up to a majority in that body, which is why they took the proposal forward. The parliamentary groups are now negotiating a resolution that will be discussed in the plenary session of the European Parliament.

The regulation of the recovery mechanism establishes that the Commission will deliver to the European Parliament the approved plans, an annual report and an independent report from 2027 to detail their execution. The draft resolution considers, however, that “for adequate democratic oversight” on the application of the fund, the Commission “should periodically report to Parliament, including in writing, on the status of the assessment of the national recovery and resilience plans, as well as its previous evaluation ”.

The document also calls on the Commission to provide Parliament with “preliminary conclusions on the achievement of milestones and objectives” before its opinion. Popular European sources justify these demands in an exercise of transparency. Also from the ranks of the liberals they argue that this request is due to the fact that the Commission is not fully respecting the role of control of the European Parliament.

The groups on the left, however, observe with concern an institutional clash that they believe has as its origin the mistrust of the hawks at the European Commission. That explains, according to the sources consulted, that the deputies not only claim to see the national plans, but also to examine the guts of the evaluation process. In this way, they will be able to verify whether the Community Executive has made concessions to the countries in their commitment to adopt reforms. And in particular, those groups fear that the ultimate goal is to control above all Italy and Spain, the two main recipients of the European fund.

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