July 30, 2021

Ursula von der Leyen on tour to defend the European recovery plan

At the European Commission, we call it the “von Der tour”. The President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, indeed began, on Wednesday June 16, a tour of Europe during which she will endeavor to make more concrete, in the eyes of the citizens, the European recovery plan of 750 billion euros designed to deal with the Covid-19 crisis. She wants to give substance to this money which will begin in July to be distributed in the form of aid and loans to the Twenty-Seven and thus promote the action of the European Union (EU), often not very visible.

The journey of the former minister of Angela Merkel began in Portugal and Spain on Wednesday, before continuing in Greece and Denmark on Thursday, June 17, then in Luxembourg the next day. The schedule for next week has not yet been published but we already know that the president will pass, among others, through France, Germany and Italy.

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In order to benefit from Community funds, the Twenty-Seven must all present a national recovery plan to the Commission, which then has two months to discuss with the governments any changes to be made and approve it. This phase involves verifying that it meets the criteria set by the Europeans: 37% of expenditure must be allocated to the fight against global warming, 20% to the digitalization of the economy and reforms must be planned which will increase their growth over time.

Bring the good news

This stage is now well advanced, since twenty-three countries have presented their plan – still missing Malta, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Estonia. For five countries – Slovenia, Poland, Sweden, Croatia, Romania – discussions with Brussels are complicated and they have asked the EU executive to grant them additional time. “In June, we should adopt more than ten national plans” , says Johannes Hahn, the budget commissioner. In this context, Ursula von der Leyen wished to be the one to bring the good news to the Heads of State and Government concerned, by coming herself to announce to them that they have successfully passed the examination of the Commission.

And too bad if that forces the commissioners to validate the approval of the national plans during the travels of the president, rather than during their weekly meeting. The decision – which will have to fall when Ursula von der Leyen arrives in the country – can only be positive. It is hard to imagine the commissioners retoking a recovery plan for a country while the president is there, which leaves one wondering about the usefulness of the exercise. On Wednesday, they had to validate first the Portuguese plan – which will be matched to the tune of 16.6 billion euros (including 13.9 billion in grants and 2.7 billion in loans) by Europe – then the plan Spanish (financed to the tune of 69.5 billion euros by Community aid). Ursula von der Leyen’s “com plan” also prejudges the decision of the Member States, which must also approve the national plans within one month of validation by the Commission.

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