European funds become reality

2 min
Von der Leyen accompanied by Sánchez yesterday in Madrid.

We have been talking about the European NextGeneration recovery funds for so long that it seems that their final approval is no longer news. But it is. A year and four months after the pandemic forced a halt to economic activity and caused a drop in GDP only comparable to the impact of a war, this Tuesday the EU finance ministers approved the plans presented by Spain and another 11 countries and released the first €9bn of the €140bn included in the rescue plan. It is still a modest first amount, but it represents the starting signal for the most ambitious economic operation in the history of the European Union, for which some taboos have been overcome, such as the fact that it is the European Commission itself which will issue debt to finance the funds.

The philosophy of the funds is clear: this injection of public capital must serve, in addition to avoiding collapse, to boost European economies in two key areas of the future: digitisation and the green economy. Covid, therefore, offers a golden opportunity for the Spanish and Catalan economies to finance projects that must contribute to changing the foundations of an economic model that until now has been too dependent on tourism and fossil fuels. Even so, the small print of how the resources will be allocated is still unknown, since the Spanish government has opted for a centralised decision-making model that runs the risk of ignoring the needs of the territory, and in particular the fabric of SMEs, which is especially strong in Catalonia.

The Generalitat de Catalunya has already presented its list of 27 selected projects worth €41bn, but it will be necessary to be attentive and continue to put pressure on the Spanish government to accept the proposals that come from here. In this sense, it is important that the Catalan government is able to weave a broad alliance with the business sectors, universities and research centres to make the Spanish executive see that there is a Catalan consensus on how this money has to be spent in order to be as transformative as the EU envisages.

At this point it is important to highlight the important role that the Catalan Socialist Party and En Comú-Podem have to play. As Catalan branches of the parties in power in Madrid, they cannot hide their heads in the sand and must become part of this consensus. In the same way, pro-independence parties, ERC and Junts, on which the stability of the Madrid government depends, must also know how to take advantage of parliamentary arithmetic to influence the executive's decisions.

We must bear in mind that we are facing a unique opportunity, and that future European solidarity and cohesion will depend on the outcome. Indeed, if this plan works, it will take European cooperation to another level, and may be a decisive step towards broader integration. But if the opposite happens and it fails, the EU project itself will be badly damaged and we will return to the austerity-based recipes of the previous crisis. And this time the south will have few arguments to protest.