Unity at the national and EU level will be key for Spain and Europe to overcome the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has said, adding that his government would successfully implement the €140 billion from the EU for the country’s pandemic response and recovery.
The Spanish leader made the remarks to EURACTIV’s partner Efe at the opening of a forum on “European funds, the key to recovery” hosted by KPMG and Spain’s national press agency.
“Unity saves companies, unity saves jobs, and without a doubt, it saves lives,” Sanchez said while discussing how prepared his country was to administer and distribute EU funds allocated to Spain for its pandemic response.
Spain has been one of the EU’s worst-affected countries by the pandemic as it recorded some of the highest infection and death rates in Europe during the first wave and saw its tourism-reliant economy be seriously impacted.
Although Spain has been allocated €140 billion over the next six years from the €750 billion EU recovery fund, critics have accused the government of being unable to effectively manage the funds and pointed out the country has only been able to absorb 38%.
“It is a half-truth,” said Sanchez, who insisted that Spain “implements everything” and “has not returned a single euro” to Brussels, acknowledging, however, that the funds are not always executed on time.
By working closely with civil society and the private sector, the prime minister said, the country is ready and able to effectively “integrate” the funds as part of an effort to revamp and modernise Spain’s economy, which was already struggling before the pandemic struck.
“Spain is capable, not only with its companies but also with its highly qualified public officials, to be able to manage the funds in an optimal way,” he emphasised.
“The key is not only to address the ecological and digital transition,” said Sanchez, but that “groups that could be seen as the most vulnerable see that this (fund) can represent an enormous opportunity for progress and employability.”
The prime minister highlighted that, above all, the funds were an “unequivocal commitment” to the single market, which he called one of the EU’s “biggest achievements”.
“What we could not accept was to have a single market in which we have first, second or third class countries,” he added while praising the “positive response” that Brussels and his own government have made to the three-pronged health, social and economic crisis.
[Edited by Daniel Eck/Zoran Radosavljevic]