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Recovery plan is 'opportunity of the century' for EU - Commission head

Jan Strupczewski
·2-min read
European Parliament holds final debate on EU-UK trade deal

By Jan Strupczewski

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union's 750 billion euro plan to rebuild the economy greener and more digital after the pandemic is an opportunity of the century for the bloc, the head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday.

In a video message issued shortly before France and Germany are to jointly present their national plans on how to spend their share of the EU fund, von der Leyen said the EU executive would make sure the multi-year schemes lived up to expectations.

"We want to build a Green Europe, which protects our climate and our environment and which creates sustainable jobs," she said. "We want to invest in a digital Europe, innovative and competitive in global markets. And we want a resilient Europe, which is better prepared to face future crises.

"We have 750 billion Euros to build our future Union. This is the opportunity of the century for Europe. A truly historic moment," she said.

Italy presented its multi-billion-euro recovery plan to overhaul the economy with investment and reforms on Monday, with Prime Minister Mario Draghi telling lawmakers it held the key to the country's future wellbeing after the ravages of the coronavirus.

France and Germany, which in May 2020 came up with the idea of a special EU fund for recovery after the pandemic, will jointly present their plans later on Tuesday.

The soft deadline for each of the EU's 27 governments to submit its own plan on how to spend the billions they will get from the jointly borrowed EU money through 2026 is on April 30, but it is likely that half of the countries will only send in their schemes in May.

The EU scheme requires governments to spend 37% of the money they get on reducing CO2 emissions in their economies and 20% on digitalising them, for instance through improving computer literacy or building high-speed Internet networks.

The Commission has two months from the moment it gets a national scheme to check whether it meets the required criteria. EU finance ministers then have another month to make their own evaluation, before the submitting country gets its first cash.

Each EU country can get an up-front payment of 13% of its share of the money, once the scheme is approved. For the whole of the EU, that means around 45 billion euros this year, possibly already in July.

The rest will be paid out in instalments as projects and reforms spelled out in the plans reach agreed milestones and targets and their completion is verified.

For any money to be disbursed, however, the EU's 27 national parliaments must first ratify a law that increases national guarantees to the EU budget that is the ultimate guarantor of the joint EU borrowing. So far, 18 have ratified.

(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski, editing by Ed Osmond)