Show us the money
The Euro Zone opinion

Show us the money

The EU Commission is concerned about potential misuse of the emergency Covid funds it gave to Spain

Mark Nayler


Friday, 1 March 2024, 16:42


Spanish prosecutors aren't the only ones looking into allegations of bribery against an adviser to the former PSOE member and transport minister José Luis Ábalos.

The EU Commission is also concerned about potential misuse of the emergency Covid funds it gave to Spain, saying in a statement this week that it has a "zero tolerance" policy against corruption and has passed information relating to the Ábalos-adviser case onto the European Anti-Fraud office.

This scandal has the potential to be ruinous for a government that has made so much of its unprecedentedly generous public spending, large tranches of which have been fuelled by European aid: the enormous budgets created by Pedro Sánchez's leftist coalition for 2022 and 2023, for example, were only possible because of the EU's Next Generation loans and grants.

But there have long been concerns in Brussels over the opacity with which that money has been managed - concerns that will hardly be assuaged by the allegations against Ábalos's former advisor/secretary and fellow PSOE member, Koldo García.

Initially, Sánchez's government claimed that the lack of publicly available information about where the EU's money was going was due to a delay in the development of software used to log disbursements; but the leader of the bloc's fiscal watchdog wasn't convinced.

In fact, Monika Hohlmeier, chairwoman of the EU's Committee on Budgetary Control, was so concerned that she went on an investigative mission to Madrid last February. "We will go to Spain because the [Spanish] government doesn't tell us where the recovery funds are," said Hohlmeier, adding that she was "very worried" about the lack of transparency with which Sánchez's government was handling the money.

Two months after her visit, at the end of April 2023, Hohlmeier said that she was "still waiting" for details from the Spanish government on the disbursement of its Next Gen funds.

Eva Poptcheva, a Ciudadanos member of the EU Parliament who was part of the delegation to Madrid, claimed that then economy minister Nadia Claviño "did not really tell us how much money has flowed into the economy [...] [But] we have had access to independent reports that speak of lower figures than those given by the government". The IMF also expressed concerns last year that Spain's EU money was not reaching its intended recipients, whether in the public or private sectors.

Clearly, there have always been doubts about the efficacy with which Sánchez's government has managed the funds pouring in from Brussels. Was it in this atmosphere of incompetence, confusion and lack of accountability, one wonders, that García saw an opportunity to cash in on the Covid aid bonanza?

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