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THE EURO ZONE

Spend it wisely

In a speech to business and union leaders on Wednesday, Pedro Sánchez belatedly rolled out a spending blueprint for the next three years, in part designed to reassure the EU that the €140 billion of recovery funds that it's sending to Spain will be used constructively. But one wonders whether Brussels will be happy with the proposals contained within the government's grand-sounding "Recovery, Transformation and Resilience" plan, especially as none of those unveiled this week seem to be directed at managing the fallout from Covid.

Ever since the EU funds were earmarked for Spain, the country's opposition has been urging the government not to use them to pursue its own ideological agendas; but if Wednesday's speech is anything to go by, it looks as if this is precisely what the Socialists - along with their junior coalition partner, leftist Podemos - plan to do. The focus was primarily on the environment and digitalisation, with Sánchez promising the production of 250,000 electric cars over the course of a year and the refurbishment of half a million homes to make them more efficient. Sánchez also announced the extension of the 5G mobile network, so that it covers 75% of Spain's population.

Electric cars and mobile networks: really? The Spanish government's draconian lockdown and chaotic handling of the virus, especially earlier this year, has resulted in an extremely vulnerable economy. Unemployment and debt are set to soar in 2020 and, unless tackled head on, may not improve for years. None of the measures announced on Wednesday directly addressed these issues, although Sánchez did say that his plans will result in 800,000 new jobs by 2022. But what kind of positions they'll be and how exactly they'll be created remains unclear.

Mariano Rajoy, Sánchez's conservative predecessor, also pledged to create 500,000 new jobs every year during his term, a promise he more or less fulfilled; but most of them were worthless temporary positions that offered no stability to employees.

It would have been far more encouraging if Sánchez had announced that some of the EU Covid recovery money was going to science and research, in order that his government's handling of the virus can be properly examined by the people qualified to do so - i.e. scientists and doctors, not politicians.

This was one of the requests made in a document released by 55 of Spain's leading scientific and medical associations last week, provocatively entitled "On Health Matters: You're In Charge But You Lack Knowledge".

If their proposals are listened to, the imposition of regulations with zero or little scientific basis (the Spanish government's preferred method to date) could be avoided if another virus strikes, which it will do at some point. That is surely more important than increasing the number of silent cars on Spain's roads.