Despite commitments from Brussels, the use of funds from the European recovery plan lacks transparency

When Ursula von der Leyen touted a “truly historic day” at the launch, in the summer of 2021, of the gigantic European recovery plan, no one disputed the claim of the President of the European Commission. The 700 billion euros released to stem the economic shock due to Covid-19 is unprecedented on the continent. But, a year later, Brussels and the Twenty-Seven are much more reserved when it comes to answering a seemingly simple question: ” Where did the money go ? »

In October 2021, the same Ursula von der Leyen promised to “ensure transparency” European credits, defending the idea that this is a condition for the success of the recovery plan. But, behind this facade of speech, the European Union (EU) delivers information on the use of its subsidies in dribs and drabs, shows the survey from the #RecoveryFiles collectivelaunched by the Dutch investigation platform Follow the Money, and of which The world is a partner.

#RecoveryFiles: investigation into European recovery money

723.8 billion euros: the “recovery and resilience plan” initiated in 2021 is the largest sum ever released by the European Union. These loans and grants aim to revive the continent’s economy, shaken by the crisis caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic, with the proclaimed objective of creating a Europe “greener” ” and “better adapted to current and future challenges”.

How was this plan developed? How will the money be spent? The #RecoveryFiles collectivewhose The world is a partner, has set itself the goal of investigating the many questions of public interest raised by the use of these colossal funds. This project, initiated by the independent Dutch platform Follow the Moneybrings together newsrooms from all over Europe, with the support of the fund IJ4EU (Investigative Journalism for Europe).

Initially, however, supporters of transparency were not lacking in Europe. Starting with Emmanuel Macron: “We need to make sure that stimulus packages are accessible in open data, to allow citizens to follow the money, as well as to prevent inefficiency or even corruption. I think it is crucial”, pleaded thus the French president in September 2020.

The example of the CAP

The last decades have indeed proven that European funding can end up in the wrong hands if it is not sufficiently controlled.

The abuses of the use of billions from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) are one of the most glaring examples: in the Czech Republic, former Prime Minister Andrej Babis, then in power, received 40 million euros in CAP subsidies for its own businesses.

Read also Article reserved for our subscribers “The CAP, a common agricultural disaster”

Specialists agree that the scale of the recovery plan and the speed at which its credits must be consumed increase the risks tenfold. “We would expect these risks to be taken into account, with additional controls, but the European recovery plan is not designed like that”regrets the Hungarian academic Mihaly Fazekas.

The issues of transparency and the prevention of corruption have been the subject of fierce discussions in the various EU bodies and between the Twenty-Seven. Guardrails have been put in place. In particular, the European Commission is asking the Member States to provide it with a whole range of information on the use of European money “for audit and control purposes”.

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