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The difficult start of European funds

Wonders Delgado

Last week the European Commission accepted the milestones reported by the Spanish Government to merit the transfer of the first tranche of recovery funds to which our country chooses. This tranche, the largest, represents some 10,000 million euros which, added to the 9,000 of summer pre-financing, would enable a good part of the public investment capacity in our country to be activated at a difficult economic time.

However, despite the money already received, the execution rate still remains very modest. Until the month of October, and according to data from the IGAE, some 6,800 million euros would have been committed, 28% of what was budgeted in the General Budgets (PGE) for the whole of 2021 with charge to the funds. But compromising indicates that the money has a legal way to execute, which does not mean that it has been paid. Moreover, of these commitments, almost all, about 6,700 million, were budgetary “movements” between public administrations, that is, transfers of capital and flows of 4,400 million to public organizations and entities, including public companies; 2,300 million to autonomous communities or a million to local entities. That is, transfers, agreements or calls within the administration itself to channel the money to those that will execute. From this, something will have finally been executed, but we would be talking about still small amounts.

As recently as the end of November they only consisted of Some 630 million were tendered under the Recovery and Resilience Framework plus another 658 million as investments for possible financing. Of all these millions, only 711 had been awarded or resolved. In subsidies there were almost 4,500 million euros in calls, many within the aforementioned amounts as channeling between administrations and without even showing deliveries to the productive fabric.

These figures show that the execution of the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan (PRTR) is manifestly slow in investments. We could consider that this first year of the PRTR's implementation has been a disappointment. But, although that might seem like that, nothing is ever so simple.

For not a few, this rhythm of execution has not been a surprise. It is true that the publication of Royal Decree Law 36/2020 raised certain expectations. However, as was stated in groups and mentideros, it was to be expected that the objective of lightening execution had not been achieved for the simple reason that it only touched tangentially on the systemic problems that our administration suffers when executing spending. Problems derived from excessive bureaucracy, lack of (human) resources and mistrust that implies that a necessary control ends up mutating, like Mr. Hyde, in a suffocating inspection that paralyzes processes or fattens reports whose sole purpose is diversion of future responsibilities.

This low execution has, to make matters worse, a derivative no less important: productive investment in terms of national accounting It has not been what we would have wanted in 2021. The EY survey in the framework of the European funds observatory that it co-directs with EsadeEcPol shows the disappointment of companies with the pace of execution and the more than likely paralysis of projects pending a streamlining of European funds. In other words, part of this year's disappointing economic growth could be attributed to slow fund management.

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And it is that what was not executed, but budgeted in 2021, has stolen points from the growth of the GDP (we could speak of up to two percentage points). However, the problem is not not having executed what was planned, but having trusted that it could have been executed, since, knowing the pace at which our administration is capable in this task, optimism had risen to very high levels.

Ultimately, Next Generation funds must be managed with long lights. We have until 2026 and the calls and tenders will appear, be awarded, resolved and granted. But from there to thinking that during 2021 we would have managed to execute what was thought shows the excessive optimism of some managers who should, in light of the data, reflect in greater depth on why God costs and helps to put resources on the street public that we have.

As a very good friend told me one day: “Manuel, this is designed so that we cannot spend” . And the gods know well that he was right.

Manuel A. Hidalgo is a professor at the Pablo de Olavide University and an economist at EsadeEcPol.

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