April 13. 2024. 6:52

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EU right, socialists clash over Spanish recovery fund

The Socialists and Democrats (S&D) are on a collision course with the EU centre-right (EPP) over a European Parliament mission to Spain related to the country’s recovery fund. Socialists hint that the EPP aims to discredit Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez, while the centre-right party says it demands clarity on the distribution of EU funds.

The European Commission has praised Spain as the quickest EU member state to implement Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) projects.

However, a visit of the European Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee (CONT) to Madrid later this month (20-23 February) has sparked a political spat between the EU centre-right and socialists.

A source from the S&D group told EURACTIV that German centre-right MEP (EPP) Monika Hohlmeier, the Committee’s chair, has acted with “partiality”, aiming to question Spain’s socialist government.

Particularly, the source explained that during the visit preparation, the EPP proposed to include meetings with former Spanish centre-right Partido Popular (EPP) officers, media, and organisations openly critical of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s RRF design.

“The purpose of the visit, though, is to analyse its implementation,” the S&D source said, adding that the EPP also attempted to block socialists’ ideas related to the management of the funds, including interviews with judicial and police officials.

The S&D also claims that Hohlmeier leaked to specific media in Spain a draft agenda containing only the EPP’s proposed agenda for the visit.

Hohlmeier: Where is the money?

Contacted by EURACTIV, Hohlmeier commented that the visit “does not imply that we have any suspicion or doubts about the implementation of the Spanish RRF plan.”

“My statement that we do not know what happened with the RRF money in Spain is equally applicable to other member states”, she added, noting that this is primarily a question toward the European Commission.

“The Commission has repeatedly informed us that the beneficiaries of RRF are member states, but this is not an adequate answer to the question of where the money is”, the German politician noted.

“We need to know what the Member States are spending this money on, what projects and who the final recipients are”, Hohlmeier added.

EURACTIV also saw an exchange of letters between the EU executive and Hohlmeier about the issue.

In these letters, the Commission explicitly brands Spain as a “frontrunner” on the RRF implementation, but according to Hohlmeier, specific answers were not provided.

“The information you are providing is not matching our needs from the perspective of budgetary control”, Hohlmeier wrote.

The German EU lawmaker told EURACTIV the Commission’s reports focus on milestones, targets, and payments but not “on what member states have done with the money”.

Hohlmeier also stressed that another question to be answered during the visit is about the participation of SMEs, regions and NGOs in the RRF consultation process.

S&D: Spain as a role model

For their part, the socialists highlight the Commission’s positive assessment, and they hope the visit will set an example of good governance for other member states.

“This is a new opportunity to show the good management of the Spanish national plan”, CONT’s Vice-Chair García Muñoz told EURACTIV.

“The mission will see first-hand how the plan is being implemented and the control systems put in place to protect the Union’s financial interests”, she said.

“This visit will allow us to analyse the functioning of the Recovery and Resilience mechanism on the ground with a view to the future and future visits”, she added.

Debate heats up ahead of elections

In June 2022, the EPP leader Manfred Weber lashed out against the socialist government in Spain, accusing it of “carelessly spending money”.

The Bavarian politician also urged the European Commission to show the “red card” to Sánchez.

“I don´t accept that socialists carelessly spend money and leave it to the EPP to pick up the pieces when the economy collapses. This is not acceptable anymore,” Weber said.

Also read: New EPP chief irks Madrid, contradicts von der Leyen

Weber’s statement triggered the reaction of Iratxe García, the EU socialists’ chief and a close ally of the Spanish prime minister.

“It’s quite shocking to see how hard the EPP tries to contradict the European Commission and its President, Ursula von der Leyen, who has continuously praised the work the Spanish government is doing with the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF)”.

Spain will hold national elections before the end of the year, and the debate has already heated up.

According to Europe Elects polls, the main opposition Partido Popular party (PP) is leading the polls, but analysts estimate that it will be hard to form a government without the far-right Vox party.

Although there are rumours about a centre-right Partido Popular and far-right VOX (ECR) partnership, the PP leader rejected such a scenario, at least for now.

“Coalitions between PP and VOX can be avoided, and I will certainly try to do so; I will avoid them”, PP chief Nuñez Feijóo has said.

“It is better to have a government alone with the PP than with VOX […], but as far as it depends on me, I will try to have a government on my own”, he added.

(Max Griera | EURACTIV.com – Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos)