Recovery and Resilience Facility: what's in it for civil society?

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Crisis Management, Teamwork concept

The RRF is still under negotiation, but according to the EU institutions the involvement of civil society will be fundamental both in the design and implementation phases of the national recovery and resilience plans.

On 19 November, the European Economic and Social Committee's Section for Economic and Monetary Union and Economic and Social Cohesion held a thematic debate between European policy-makers and civil society representatives on Implementing the Recovery and Resilience Facility to fight the economic consequences of the COVID-19 crisis: state of play and the role of organised civil society.

The RFF was the subject of a European Commission legislative proposal on 27 May 2020. It is the central pillar of the Next Generation EU plan to help European economies recover from the COVID-19 crisis. It will make EUR 672.5 billion in grants and loans available to Member States, once the latter have presented national recovery and resilience plans which are in line with overall EU priorities and the country-specific challenges identified within the European Semester process. As ECO section president Stefano Palmieri underlined in his introductory remarks, all payments to Member States should be made by the end of 2026. Therefore, he said, this is an extraordinary response to the crisis. Something that the European Union has never done before.

Nevertheless, Mr Palmieri also raised some concerns On the one hand, there is a strategy of restructuring the European Union's production system, with medium and long-term objectives, such as the green and digital transition and strengthening economic competitiveness. On the other hand, there is an intensive programme of anti-cyclical interventions which seek to neutralise the negative impact of the pandemic, which should give immediate effect. How can we marry these two different objectives which also have different timeframes?

An answer came from Maria Teresa Fabregas Fernandez, Director of the European Commission's Recovery and Resilience Task Force (RECOVER): It is very important that Member States take into consideration future generations, since the mechanism which will make funds available consists of going on the market and borrowing money. This debt will have to be paid by the next generations. It is important for Member States to introduce structural reforms in order to make sure that those investments have a long-lasting impact on the economy. The new RECOVER task force will be in charge of supporting governments to develop reform plans in which, according to the Commission, the involvement of organised civil society is paramount. As also stressed in the debate by Dimitris Dimitriadis, rapporteur for the EESC opinion on the Recovery and Resilience Facility and the Technical Support Instrument, broad consultation with social partners is needed at all levels of government, so that SMEs and other stakeholders at national level can benefit directly from this new Marshall Plan for Europe. 

The legal basis for the RRF is still under discussion in a trilogue involving the three main EU institutions – the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission. Henning Fahland, head of the Recovery and Resilience Task Force at the German Ministry of Finance, who is participating in the negotiations on behalf of the current German Presidency of the Council, said that the deadlock on the negotiations on the Next Generation EU and the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) package does not have an influence on the RFF negotiations.

Dragoș Pîslaru, co-rapporteur for the Recovery and Resilience Facility at the European Parliament, was also very reassuring: We, the three institutions, are one team acting in Europe's interest. Mr Pîslaru said that the basis of a good Recovery and Resilience Plan should be created together with citizens. The plan should be developed and implemented in cooperation with regional and local authorities, civil society organisations, including youth organisations, and social partners. This is a legal requirement that the Parliament wants to see in the Regulation, not just words, he said. It should be one of the assessment criteria.

This inclusive approach has already been followed by Portugal, which was the first Member State to present its draft plan to the Commission and intends to submit the final version by early 2021, provided the RRF regulation enters into force by then. Rui Henrique Alves, from the Permanent Representation of Portugal, which will take over the EU presidency in January, explained that his government had organised the widest possible consultation, including academics, business organisations, trade unions, municipalities, etc. For the future Portuguese Presidency, this involvement will be very important also in the implementation phase, with the creation of national commissions featuring representatives of all stakeholders. 

BACKGROUND

Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) contributed actively to the rapidly evolving economic policy response at European level.  In our numerous opinions, position papers, resolutions and statements on the COVID-19 crisis, we have called for a quick and ambitious package of economic measures as a tangible expression of European solidarity and subsidiarity. In particular, we welcomed the NextGenerationEU recovery plan proposed by the European Commission and its central pillar – the EUR 672 billion Recovery and Resilience Facility.

In this regard, we believe that now is the time for the EU institutions to take decisive steps in swiftly approving the new Facility and putting in place the necessary implementation mechanisms at European and national level, so that the hardest hit Member States, citizens and businesses can benefit from the relevant EU funding when they need it most. We also believe that organised civil society in the EU has an important role to play in the successful implementation of the Facility and the national recovery and resilience plans.