‘Extraordinary generosity’: EU chief lands in Madrid to launch Spain’s €140-billion recovery plan

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen visits Lisbon and Madrid Wednesday where she will begin approving recovery plans submitted by nations seeking funding from the bloc's coronavirus recovery fund.

'Extraordinary generosity': EU chief lands in Madrid to launch Spain's €140-billion recovery plan
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen will meet Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Wednesday June 16th in Madrid. (Photo by JOHN THYS / POOL / AFP)

“This is a historic achievement,” von der Leyen told the European Parliament last week in announcing the imminent activation of the landmark €750-billion ($910-billion) recovery plan which was drawn up nearly a year ago.

Spain is due to receive €140 billion ($167 billion) — half in direct payments, half in loans — between 2021 and 2026.

The choice to start in Portugal and Spain is symbolic.

Portugal, which currently holds the EU’s six-month rotating presidency, has made the rapid adoption of these recovery plans a priority following their recommendation by the Commission.

And the government of Socialist Prime Minister Antonio Costa set a good precedent by being the first country to submit its own plan in April.

Spain is also a significant choice in that it will be the second-largest beneficiary of the rescue fund after Italy.

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen (L) receives a gift from Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez as Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel looks on during the second day of the EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels on May 25, 2021. - European Union leaders take part in a two day in-person meeting to discuss the coronavirus pandemic, climate and Russia. (Photo by JOHN THYS / POOL / AFP)Ursula von der Leyen (L) receives a gift from Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez as Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel looks on during an  EU summit in May. (Photo by JOHN THYS / POOL / AFP)

‘Extraordinary generosity’

“Two southern European countries that previously did not feel supported within Europe have now benefitted from the extraordinary support and generosity of their northern partners,” said Toni Roldán, head of research at the Esade Centre for Economic Policy (EsadeEcPol) in Madrid.

Spain was particularly hard hit when the pandemic first erupted in early 2020, while Portugal suffered a major surge in cases at the start of this year.

With both countries hugely dependent on tourism, their economies have been significantly affected.

Since the eurozone debt crisis which began in 2011, Lisbon and Madrid have often been in the firing line with Europe’s more “frugal” members frustrated at having to fork out money to subsidise spending in what they have seen as the somewhat less virtuous south.

Although some of the conditions attached to the stimulus packages remain vague, Spain and Portugal could have shown “greater reformist ambition” in using the money, particularly in the area of education, Roldan told AFP.

“I understand it’s difficult for the Commission to demand deep reforms in this complicated environment with the rise of populism and all the post-pandemic suffering, but at the same time, it’s the best moment.”

Green transition

In Lisbon, von der Leyen will head to a science exhibition centre to meet Costa, whose country is to receive 16 billion euros in funding.

She then flies to Madrid to meet Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez at the headquarters of the national electricity board with Spain to drive the bulk of its funding into the green transition.

On Thursday, von der Leyen will head to Greece and Denmark, and then on to Luxembourg the next day on a tour that will take her to most member states.

Since the end of April, 23 governments have submitted investment and reform plans to Brussels for approval. The Commission has two months from the date of submission to give its opinion after which the European Council must give its approval within a month.


Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Spain postpones its EuroMed summit as PM still has Covid

A summit grouping nine southern European countries that was due to take place in Alicante on Friday has been postponed because Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has continued to test positive for Covid-19, his office said Thursday.

Spain postpones its EuroMed summit as PM still has Covid

The EuroMed 9, which groups Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain, was to have gathered in the southeastern city of Alicante on September 30th.

Sánchez, who was to host the summit, had on Sunday confirmed having Covid, and by Thursday he was still testing positive, his office said.

“This morning, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez took a diagnostic test and was still positive for Covid-19,” it said.

“As a precaution, the decision has been taken to postpone the MED-9 summit which was going to be held in Alicante tomorrow.”

It did not give a new date for the summit.

Sánchez tested positive several days after flying back from the UN General Assembly in New York.

He has since suspended much of his agenda but has continued attending events online.

Nine heads of state and government had been due to attend Friday’s summit, among them French President Emmanuel Macron and outgoing Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU council President Charles Michel were also due to attend for a summit focused on the energy crisis facing Europe as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The EuroMed group was created in 2016 to strengthen the cooperation between Mediterranean and southern EU member states.