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Tension in Spain over use of EU recovery funds

The Spanish government is increasingly

under fire over its use of the European Union's massive economic recovery

funds, with critics blasting the distribution of aid as too slow and

arbitrary.

Spain is due to receive 140 billion euros ($160 billion) from the fund by

2026, half of it in grants, making it the programme's second-biggest

beneficiary after Italy.

The landmark 800-billion-euro recovery plan was approved by Brussels in

July 2020 to help the bloc rebound from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic,

and make its economy greener and more digitalised.

"We are talking about extraordinary amounts," Socialist Prime Minister

Pedro Sanchez said earlier this month, calling the funds "a historic

opportunity for Spain".

Spain and Portugal were the first nations to receive money, with Madrid

collecting 19 billion euros during the second half of 2021.

The funds are at the heart of the economic and political strategy of

Sanchez's government after the economy contracted by a whopping 10.8 percent

in 2020 under its watch as the pandemic hit.

The government faces elections by the end of 2023.

But some business leaders and opposition parties have complained about a

lack of coordination between the central government and Spain's powerful

regions over the deployment of the money.

- 'Lack of leadership' -

Although Spain was the first to receive aid, the money was "not injected"

as fast as expected in the "real economy", the CEOE employers' association

said in a report in early January.

By the end of the year, only 38 percent of the funds allocated to Spain

for 2021 had been used, official figures show.

This is "very far from the targets" that were set and the delay in using

the aid will hamper growth, think-tank Funcas has warned.

Aerospace giant Airbus complained of a lag in the allotment of the funds,

citing a "lack of coordination and leadership" from the responsible

ministries, according to an internal memo published in El Pais newspaper last

month.

Critics also say that even when the money is distributed, it is often not

well spent, with small amounts spread across many projects.

"The current assignment system for the funds" leads to their "dispersion"

and favours "little projects", some of them "a bit odd," said the Exceltur

tourism association's vice president, Jose Luis Zoreda.

He cited as an example a golf course in the rainy northern region of

Asturias.

To have a "real impact", the funds should focus on "a few large projects"

with a strong potential to "transform" the Spanish economy, he added.

- 'Cruising speed' -

The row has in recent days become political, with the right-wing

opposition Popular Party (PP) accusing the government of favouring regions

and municipalities run by the left.

"Two years ago we proposed setting up an independent agency for managing

EU funds" as happened in Greece, Italy and France, PP leader Pablo Casado

said.

"But Sanchez preferred to distribute aid arbitrarily," he charged.

Casado and several right-wing regional leaders have threatened to take the

government to court over the distribution of the EU money, accusing it of

"favouritism".

But Sanchez quickly hit back.

"Let's not turn the European funds into a partisan question... which is

what the opposition wants," Sanchez said Monday during a news conference with

visiting German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Economy Minister Nadia Calvino, who served as director general in charge

of the EU budget from 2014 to 2018, dismissed the PP's criticisms as "not

relevant".

The deployment of European funds will achieve its "cruising speed" in

2022, she added.

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)