By Kate Abnett
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union on Monday handed out the first cash from its huge COVID-19 recovery fund, in the form of grants to create jobs and support businesses in economies ravaged by the pandemic.
The EU's 27 countries are all in line to get money from a fund worth 800 billion euros ($954.32 billion) in grants and loans, which is financed by debt raised by the European Commission on behalf of member states.
The Commission, the EU's executive, said on Monday it had disbursed the first cash from the fund - 800 million euros in grants to 16 EU countries, among them France, Germany, Denmark, Estonia and the Czech Republic.
"I am very happy that we succeeded to kick-start the NextGenerationEU issuances as scheduled," EU budget commissioner Johannes Hahn said in a statement.
The COVID-19 recovery fund is known as NextGenerationEU.
The money will fund 41 national and regional programmes aimed at bridging the gap between emergency response measures and long-term investments, through measures to strengthen healthcare systems, create jobs or offer investment support to businesses.
It will support projects that help reduce disparities in the economic strength of different regions - known in EU jargon as "cohesion funding". Countries can also use it to reimburse projects dating back to February 2020.
To qualify for EU recovery money, each government had to set out how it would spend its share, with a caveat that at least 37% must go towards fighting climate change and at least 20% to making the economy fit for the digital age.
(Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by John Chalmers and Gareth Jones)