Covid-19 recovery plan: Parliament hosts debate on lessons for next crises 

 
 

A conference in the European Parliament examined the progress of Covid-19 recovery plans and how the lessons learnt apply to Ukraine and other crises.

The aim of the meeting on 16 March was to draw lessons from the first steps of the Recovery and Resilience Facility, the EU’s mechanism to support investment and reform in EU countries and help business owners and workers overcome the Covid-19 crisis.


Speakers, including Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa and members of the European Parliament and national parliaments, noted that the EU is already facing a new crisis, with prices rising and Russia’s attack on Ukraine triggering a massive influx of refugees.


At the same time, many insisted that the Recovery and Resilience Facility and the national recovery plans it supports provide a good framework to tackle challenges such as reducing energy dependence and carrying out structural reforms.


MEPs call for the use of existing tools


Siegfried Mureșan (EPP, Romania), one of three MEPs responsible for following the implementation of recovery plans, said that as it takes time to create new instruments for EU support, the instruments that the EU has at its disposal - the EU 2021-2027 budget and the recovery funds totalling up to €1.8 trillion - should be used to overcome current challenges.


He highlighted the importance of Parliament’s work in scrutinising recovery plans: “We believe that as the European Union will spend more money than ever in the upcoming years, we need to make sure that the money will reach the beneficiaries it is intended for.”


“The recovery plan broke various taboos,” said Eider Gardiazábal (S&D, Spain), one of the other MEPs responsible for this ctopic, pointing to the issuance of common debt and the agreement on new resources for the EU budget to allow for the repayment of the debt. “No crisis is identical to the previous one, so solutions have to be different, but the tools developed can serve us.”


Dragoş Pîslaru (Renew Europe, Romania) called the Recovery and Resilience Facility “the embodiment and a wonderful response of solidarity born in one of the darkest moments faced by EU citizens”.


The facility makes available up to €335 billion in grants and up to €385.8 billion in loans to EU countries. For the moment, most countries are not considering to take loans. Pîslaru, who is also one of the lead MEPs on this, suggested unused loan amounts could be reallocated “for the new urgent priorities caused by Russia’s aggression”.


Céline Gauer, head of the recovery and resilience task force of the European Commission, emphasised the “extremely fast implementation” of the EU recovery plan and said that by the end of April €100 billion should have been disbursed. She said the strong green focus in national plans on energy efficiency, renewables, hydrogen and reinforcing energy networks should allow diversification away from Russia’s fossil fuels.


Solidarity and unity are the way forward


Prime Minister Costa praised the role of Sure, the EU's  temporary job support instrument during the pandemic, and called for the establishment of a similar permanent instrument.


He pointed out semi-conductors, health, digital, food and agriculture as key areas requiring joint investments. Costa noted that solidarity and working together helped the EU deal with the health crisis. “This is how we need to deal with the war that is on our doorstep.”


European Parliamentary Week


The conference was part of the European Parliamentary Week, organised by the European Parliament and France's senate and national assembly, bringing together representatives of the European Parliament and national parliaments.


They discussed challenges related to the coordination of economic and social policies in the EU under the framework of the European Semester.


The Recovery and Resilience Facility


The €723.8 billion Recovery and Resilience Facility is the key EU recovery plan instrument. It is financed through debt that the European Commission takes on the international markets.


The money goes to EU countries, which prepare national recovery plans proposing investment projects and reforms in six areas: the green transition; digital transformation; smart, sustainable and inclusive growth; social and territorial cohesion; building resilience and crisis preparedness; and policies for the next generation.


Upon approval of their plans by the Council, member states may receive up to 13% of the total amount in pre-financing. The rest is paid only after the agreed objectives are reached.


As at March 2022, 22 EU countries have had their plans approved and two - Spain and France - have received first payments for reached milestones.


The European Parliament has set up a working group to scrutinise the implementation of the recovery plans. MEPs hold frequent meetings with Commission representatives on the progress and the economic affairs and budgets committees have public discussions with Commissioners Valdis Dombrovskis and Paolo Gentiloni.