Event on the Spanish National Recovery and Resilience Plan with the Economic and Social Council of Spain

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Dear President Costas, distinguished speakers and participants,

Thank you for the invitation to this event, I am particularly happy of this concrete cooperation between the European Economic and Social Committee and the Economic and Social Council, on a topic that I see as particularly important and timely.

Gracias por la invitación a este debate, me alegra especialmente esta cooperación concreta entre el Comité Económico y Social Europeo y el Consejo Económico y Social, sobre un tema que me parece especialmente importante y actual. Y si me permiten, continuaré ahora en inglés.

Almost two years after the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic, we still feel the impact of the economic and social crisis, which, especially at the beginning, when lock-downs took place, caused a severe contraction of the economy. The pandemic has also exposed pre-existing problems and has widened inequalities, and made the lives of young people harder. The challenges that we knew before – like the need to handle the necessary transitions in a successful way, ageing, globalisation, a changing geopolitical landscape - have not stopped in the meantime. 

Fortunately, we see in Europe a return to growth that is much quicker than expected, and we see efforts at all levels to improve at the same time the economic, social and environmental situation. We have to take this occasion to exit the crises even stronger and better prepared for the future than we were two years ago. But this requires stimulating the green and digital transitions of our societies, and making the best of them, while leaving no one behind and duly involving all relevant parties, and especially the civil society organisations.

The EESC is actively contributing to this process of recovery and resilience, and I will start by saying a few words about our recent and ongoing work.

In 2018, we established a new group in the EESC – the European Semester Group. Its President is Javier Doz Orrit, who will moderate and draw conclusions later today. Thank you very much for your work, Javier.

When the pandemic struck in early 2020, we immediately highlighted the need for investing in supporting our economies and societies to keep running and recover from the first consequences of the pandemic. Right from the beginning we supported the work of the Commission and the other EU institutions, especially on what was later to become the NextGenerationEU and the Recovery and Resilience Facility.

During this process, the EU showed an unprecedented level of solidarity. The NextGenerationEU, which is an instrument of over €800 billion, and its centerpiece - the Recovery and Resilience Facility - support the reforms and investments undertaken by EU countries. The aim is to make Europe greener, more digital, more resilient and better adapted to current and future challenges, in line with the EUs four guiding principles of environmental sustainability, productivity, fairness and macroeconomic stability. This instrument will be financing reforms and investments in Member States until 31 December 2026.

One of the highest priorities of my mandate is to make sure that we support the recovery and we make European fit for the current and future challenges. The EESC can bring substantial value added into the ongoing political debate when focusing its competences and resources on three core issues: Economic prosperity, Social inclusiveness, Environmental sustainability.

These are the three pillars of my Presidency priorities and of my vision of a post-COVID era. I also believe in an open, values-based society, which enables all civil society organisations to flourish, have their say and been listened to.

We must ensure that the funds reach those in need – be it the unemployed or businesses. If all goes well, this will give the EU an important boost.

But if the money is not well spent it may have the opposite effect, and lead to anti-European feelings, alienation and resentment. In order to make sure that the available funds are put to good use, the EESC thinks that it is absolutely vital that organised civil society is involved in all stages of the process.

Therefore, in late 2020, our European Semester Group consulted in all 27 Member States, asking the question: how is organized civil society involved in drawing up the National Recovery and Resilience Plans? The analysis was done over the winter 2020-2021, and in February 2021 the result was ready: This involvement is not good enough. The national plans could be even better if more relevant stakeholders were involved in how they were made.

For Spain, our analysis one year ago showed that there had been some formal and informal involvement but no capacity to influence was identified. This was also the case for 19 other Member States , in other words, the majority of EU Member States.

When the Facility entered into force on 19 February 2021, the Committee switched its attention from a broad support for the principle of reform to an even more hands-on approach: How is organised civil society involved in the implementation and the monitoring of the national plans?

When the reform processes began, the EESC launched consultations in all EU Member States. Thus, today is the consultation in Spain. In October – November last year we organised Round Tables with organised civil society also in Austria, Bulgaria and Poland, the day before yesterday we discussed it in Italy, and other countries will follow later in the year.

We are focusing on assessing the content of the plans, their economic and social impact and the involvement of civil society organisations in monitoring and implementing them.

The results of all these consultations will be analysed, written together and presented to the public during the EESC Plenary Session in May this year. We expect the results of to have at least as much impact as the work we did last year, and your contribution from today is highly appreciated.

Of particular importance is the concept of "best practice". Are there ways of doing things in Spain that could inspire organised civil society in other Member States to perform better? And vice-versa? We will of course share the results of this work with all those who have contributed to it, plus the wider public and the EU institutions.

The EESC attaches a great importance to the national recovery and resilience plans, for several reasons, and I will only mention two here:

The first reason is that it is a tool needed to stimulate the economy to re-create what the crisis destroyed. But not only that, the reconstruction will be a model shift towards a, economy that is more digitalised and more sustainable.

The second reason is the value of the plan for a stronger and more integrated EU. The 750 billion € of the Recovery and Resilience Facility are financed through common debt – for the first time – and funds are distributed to those who need it most, strengthening the role of the EU, also in the eyes of the citizens.

Looking into the specific case of Spain, its National Recovery and Resilience Plan is one of the biggest financed by the Next Generation EU recovery instrument. It is worth 69.5 billion euros and represents 9.6 % of the entire RRF.

Right after the Council's approval of the plan on 17 August 2021, the European Commission disbursed €9 billion to Spain in pre-financing. The next payments will depend on progress in implementing the plan. I understood that for the time being, Spain has decided to use its national allocation for grants under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). In addition, there is money from Spain's general state budgets: €27 billion, and also funds from the REACT-EU funds (€12.4 billion), mainly for investment in health and education. Finally, there are also the structural funds set out in the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework.

I am looking forward to see your own analysis of the measures set out for recovery in your country, and on their concrete implementation. Like for other countries, It trust that the current reform trend should be a great opportunity to tackle some pre-existing challenges – and for example, to offer more perspectives to the NEETs and young people in general on the labour market , to allow SMEs and other companies to thrive and be more productive  and to enhance the digital and green transition.

The Commission has estimated that the economic impact of Next Generation EU in Spain could lead to a GDP increase of up to 2.5 % by 2024. In addition, 250 000 new jobs could also be created by 2024.

In general, the NRRPs and the NextGenerationEU have the potential to confirm our European Union as a guardian of shared fundamental values, a global promoter of sustainability, open and fair trade, and multilateralism, a haven for a unique economic and social model based on fair competition and solidarity in an area without internal borders, and a driver of sustainable prosperity.

The social partners, the other civil society organisations and the Economic and Social Councils must play a key role in the process of recovery and reconstruction, as they are rooted in the reality of our societies and economies and know the reality on the ground.

The participation of all citizens, through civil society organisations, will put the process of recovery on a truly democratic basis. This is also my message in the context of the Conference on the Future of Europe, when it comes to reshaping our common future. In that forum the EESC asks that EU institutions genuinely listens and act upon the recommendations of citizens and civil society organisations. I have asked for setting up a dashboard, to clearly show what action is being taken following citizens' requests, in all transparency. We have started seeing citizens' panels recommendations, which are debated in the Conference plenary. More is to come -   on ‘A stronger economy, social justice and jobs / Education, culture, youth and sport / Digital transformation'. Then, it will be important to do a screening exercise: take each recommendation and clarify which recommendations are already implemented, and what needs to be done additionally.

To come back to the situation of Spain, I understood that your country has created a "multi-level governance system to ensure the implementation, monitoring and control of the Recovery and Resilience national plan". I look forward to seeing how organised civil society is really involved, keeping in mind that civil society provides both expertise and democratic legitimacy.

Your feedback will be extremely valuable for our Resolution, and I thank you very much for your involvement and for our valuable cooperation.

I wish you a successful day of discussion and exchanges and I am looking forward to seeing the results!

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Event on Spanish National Recovery and Resilience Plan