EU pandemic fund inspectors say no sign of fraud in Spain

Feb 22, 2023, 9:40 AM | Updated: 9:47 am

MADRID (AP) — The European Parliament´s budget control committee said Wednesday it has found no evidence of deceit or fraud in Spain’s handling of the 31 billion euros ($33 billion) it has received so far in special European Union post-pandemic recovery funds.

But a visiting delegation urged the Madrid government to be more transparent and flexible in its use of the funds and in providing public information about them.

Speaking Wednesday at the end of a three-day inspection visit, committee chair Monika Hohlmeier said she was impressed with Spanish authorities’ commitment to make the most of the funds but added that she recognized that administrative hurdles were a major complaint from several regional officials.

“We have learned that the current implementation of the funds should be more flexible,” said Hohlmeier. “Administrative burden is a common complaint by the stakeholders. “

She added that several of Spain’s regions complain about their proposals not being considered and called “on both the central and regional governments to deepen their dialogs and cooperation.”

Hohlmeier’s conciliatory tone in the end-of-visit press conference came as a surprise as it was expected that the delegation might be highly critical of Spain.

She said the visit was not chiefly intended to look for violations but rather to ensure transparency and that the funds be well spent.

Hohlmeier said there was a particular need to remove impediments to give fairer and faster access to the self-employed and small- and medium-sized companies that she said are so important to the Spanish economy.

She said the committee will draw up a series of recommendations in its upcoming report once they have reviewed all they have heard in the meetings with financial and political authorities during the visit.

Spain was one of the first EU countries to apply for and receive funds from the EU pandemic recovery fund and stands to be among its main beneficiaries. It is set to receive a total of 140 billion euros, half in direct transfers, half in loans.

Prior to the visit, the European Commission last Friday said it would deliver a further 6 billion euros to Spain, indicating its satisfaction with how Spain was handling the money so far.

Hohlmeier admitted that future funds would be contingent on Spain completing a reform of its pension system but said Madrid appeared committed to doing this and that there was no prospect of the money being blocked.

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EU pandemic fund inspectors say no sign of fraud in Spain