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MNI SOURCES: France, Spain Want Faster EU Aid Plan Approval

MNI (Brussels)

EU countries expecting bigger shares of the EUR750 billion NextGenEU package are pressing for faster approval of plans needed to access money.

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Countries including France, Spain and Portugal are pushing the European Commission to speed up approval of national recovery plans setting out reforms and investments required to access money from the EUR750 billion Next Generation EU aid package, officials told MNI.

The Commission has said it will need two months to approve NRPs once submitted and EU finance ministers will only provide the final green light a month later. This delay could threaten the official timeline for NextGenEU borrowing to start in July, particularly now that some countries, such as the Netherlands and Finland, have already said they will not meet the end-of-April 'soft deadline' for submitting plans.

"There is a level of impatience that is growing in some countries. There are countries that depend much more on Next Generation EU funds than others," said one official.

France, Spain, Portugal and Greece are all expected to submit plans to the Commission this week, but the EC has made clear it will put a higher priority on ensuring that these meet the required investment and reform criteria than on rapid release of funds. The Greeks are also unhappy at the prospect of delay, officials said.

"The more money you get the more you expect it to come quickly because you're planning your whole budget around the money. Whereas, if you're getting less or the same as you put in, it doesn't make much of a difference," one EU official said.

PLACATING THE "FRUGALS"

Another source said the Commission felt it had to move carefully in order to avoid accusations of sponsoring wasteful spending from the so-called "frugal" countries, grouping Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden. This could prompt a showdown in the Council of Ministers and threaten further delay or even blockage of the plans.

"We all remember how negotiations went in July last year for the agreement at the European Council. It was discussed for three nights in a row," the source said. "Let's take the pain now then we don't run the risk of last-minute blockage in the Council, and we have to go to leaders - and then God knows What might happen!"

One senior national finance official suggested the Frugal states, while calling for strict scrutiny of countries seeking large amounts of NextGenEU money, would be prepared for the Commission to be more tolerant of more modest plans presented by other countries, including their own plans.

"And there is the problem that member states have not seen each others' programmes yet, so we don't actually know what the benchmark is," the official said.

Draft NRPS have to satisfy strict technical criteria and release of funds is linked to targets and milestones for key reforms, budget policy changes and green and digital investments.

As another EU source said: "We must increase potential growth through structural reforms. Otherwise, everything will be as it was in five years, except that the debt load has increased."