They are neither blocked nor does Spain fail to comply: Feijóo's PP twists the data in its campaign on European funds

"Spain needs them to accelerate a recovery in which it is trailing Europe. Europe must unblock them and Spain must meet the agreed milestones." This is how he charged against the Government from the recent congress of the European PP, in Rotterdam, the leader of the Popular Party, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, this week. But his arguments are full of inaccuracies. Does Spain need the funds to accelerate the recovery? Undoubtedly, perhaps it is the only part of what was expressed by the leader of the PP that faithfully adjusts to reality.

"Spain is trailing Europe," says Feijóo in relation to the recovery. This same Friday, at the start of the Andalusian election campaign, Feijóo insisted that Spain is "the only country" in the EU that has not recovered the GDP levels prior to the pandemic. And it is true that economic forecasts predict that Spain will not recover its level of wealth until the third quarter of 2023, and that most EU countries will do so sooner. But that does not imply that the others have already recovered it, it's about forecasts. And Spain has not received a single criticism from Brussels. The European Commission attributes the delay to the economic dependence of sectors that were particularly hard hit during the pandemic, such as tourism, for example, and the impact of the energy crisis.

From there, the president of the PP does not stop twisting reality. "Europe must unlock them," he says, referring to European funds from the Recovery and Resilience Facility and the NextGenerationEU plan. And he says it while greeting the president of the Commission itself, Ursula Von der Leyen, of the European PP and who has congratulated the Government on multiple occasions for the speed with which Spain has presented the reform plans that go hand in hand with the delivery of the money from European coffers.

But are European funds really blocked? Since when?

Spain was one of the first countries to receive the pre-financing of 9,000 million euros, on August 17, 2021; a payment that Finland, for example, did not get until January 21, five months after Spain. But the fact is that Spain, moreover, was the first country to sign the operating provisions – the fund's operating regulations – which have served as a model for the rest of the countries.

Moreover, Spain was the first country to request the first tranche of the recovery funds –10,000 million– and received the money on December 27, 2021. Portugal, for example, just made that first payment on May 9 last. Italy, April 13. And France, on March 4.

But not only that, is that Spain has already requested the second tranche -12,000 million- on April 30. That is, he requested it before Portugal received the payment of the first.

In fact, only five countries have obtained this first tranche – Spain, Portugal, France, Italy and Greece. The other 22 are still in process. There are even countries like Hungary that do have approval blocked due to their corruption problems and the authoritarian drift that Viktor Orbán, Vox's partner in Europe, has undertaken; or like Poland, which he has seen as his plan was just approved this week, but the disbursement of money is conditional on reforms to recover the judicial independence of the country. Or the Netherlands, which submitted its application at the end of March 2022.

And what is the mechanism for disbursing the funds? The regulation establishes that, after making the request for the money (if the plan is previously approved, and the Spanish was one of the first to pass the filter, last June by the Commission and a month later by the Council) the European Commission has up to two months to issue your evaluation. If it is favourable, the Council – the governments – have another month to ratify it. From there, in a few days, the money would be disbursed.

So, if Spain has requested the second tranche of money on April 30, the Commission has until June 30 to make its assessment. In almost a month. Therefore, it is not that the second disbursement has been blocked –because both with the pre-financing and with the first tranche, Spain has been in the lead–, but rather that everything is going according to plan, and Brussels is in the evaluation process within the deadlines set in the regulations.

"And Spain must comply with the agreed milestones," says Feijóo below. Taking into account that the recovery funds link the disbursement of money with the achievement of milestones, goals, reforms and investments, Brussels only gives the money if those "agreed milestones" are met. That is to say: in the case of Spain they have been fulfilled, and so quickly, that it has been from the countries that are receiving European money before. Just the opposite of what the leader of the PP insinuates, while he accuses the Executive of "make-up" the unemployment data –without any supporting argument– and, in the same appearance, boasts of the employment created in Andalusia after the labor reform approved by the coalition government.

The economic vice president of the European Commission, Valdis Dombrovskis, already reminded the PP MEP Isabel Benjumea a few months ago the operation of the mechanism: "It is an instrument that is based on meeting objectives, money is given when goals are met. When investments and reforms have been completed, and the European Commission verifies if this is the case, then the money is disbursed." Dombrovskis, like Von der Leyen, is a leader of the European PP.

The European Commissioner for Finance, Paolo Gentiloni, told Benjumea: "In relation to Spain, the decision [del desembolso del primer tramo de 10.000 millones] It was taken quickly because many of the objectives were related to decisions and initiatives already fulfilled and adopted by the authorities, something that is legal and that other countries have done”

Dombrovskis also recalled that there graphs of monitoring and compliance with the plan and the objectives of the 27 Member States "public and available".

Indeed, on that website of the European Commission it can be verified that, while the average of the 27 in application of the milestones and reforms is 3%, Spain is at 13%, only surpassed by France (22%). This is, among other reasons, because the accounting of the reforms is done with the disbursements, and since there have only been five, only the compliance of those five countries is collected.

In its first report on the application of European fundspublished by the European Commission at the beginning of last March, the Community Executive states about Spain: "The Mechanism has entered the execution phase, advancing rapidly in accordance with the schedule of reforms and investments established by the Member States. The first request payment was processed in its entirety in 2021, with the disbursement of 10,000 million to Spain in December of that year, while in 2022 it is expected that more than thirty payment requests will be submitted".

"To date, the Commission has disbursed a first payment to Spain", said Brussels, which since the publication of the report has released the payment to four other countries: "Spain was the first Member State to submit a request for payment on 11 November 2021, after the signing of the operating agreement The first payment request from Spain is related to the successful completion of 52 milestones, mainly associated with reforms that had already been carried out by the second quarter of 2021. In view of the nature retrospective of most of the milestones and given that Spain had shared with the Commission most of the information necessary to carry out its evaluation before the official submission of the payment request, the Commission was able to process without delay the evaluation of the payment request and disbursed 10,000 million to Spain on December 27, 2021".

Brussels insists: "Given that the first payment to Spain recognizes the achievement of the milestones and objectives on which the corresponding measures of the Recovery and Resilience Plan are based, said payment already illustrates the progress made in the execution of the Recovery and Resilience Mechanism The milestones contemplated in the payment show significant progress in the application of Spain's recovery and resilience plan and its extensive program of reforms, covering important measures such as the Climate Change and Energy Transition Law (which enshrines climate neutrality from now to 2050), the reform of minimum income support, measures to support the digitization of SMEs and boost digital skills, and reforms to strengthen the capacity to carry out and monitor expenditure analyses.This example shows how the Mechanism is already having a tangible impact on the ground by supporting the implementation of meaningful reforms. The first payment to Spain at the end of 2021 already demonstrates the impact of the Mechanism in supporting the implementation of important reforms".

Another of the PP's battle horses, which Feijóo has inherited from the times of Pablo Casado, was to sow doubts about the execution of the Spanish plan. "There is no general requirement that Member States must submit to the European Commission actual evidence of expenditure or transfers to the implementing bodies", Brussels responds again and again to the questions of the PP MEPs. And they add: "However, Spain has published a website with detailed information on its spending."

Vice President Dombrovkis concluded in this case: "The execution of the Spanish plan currently follows the agreed schedule, which is indicated in the Council's Execution Decision".

And why does Dombrovskis say that? Because for the European Commission the execution has to do with the fulfillment of reforms, such as the labor reform approved at the end of 2021, for example, and for which Spain has requested the 12,000 million of the second tranche for whose evaluation Brussels has until the end of month. A reform that, despite the forecasts of the right-wing opposition or some businessmen, has not caused a debacle in employment. In fact, Spain has dropped from the three million unemployed for the first time since 2008.

Despite the data, despite the continuous counterclaims that the PP receives from the European commissioners, some from his own political family, Feijóo insists. And he twists statistics or reports to justify his words. The last time, this Friday in Malaga, during his first campaign act, when he reiterated the "low execution" of European funds. The leader of the opposition, who considers himself the "alternative", used a report from the General State Intervention which ensures, according to the Galician leader, that "only 6% of the total funds have reached the companies , just over 1,500 million of the more than 29,000" that Spain has received. The Genoa press release went a step further by assuring that "the execution of European funds is only 6% of the more than 29,000 million euros that Spain has already received." Two statements that seem compatible, but are not. And neither do they match reality or the messages sent by the EU about Spain's place in the application of funds.

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