Prime minister Pedro Sánchez in Brussels this week. / AFP

System failure

Pointeless bureaucracy and a non-existent computer system has impeded EU funds from reaching those in need of them

Mark Nayler
MARK NAYLER

More problems emerged with Spain's supposedly historic 2022 budget this week, as a gaggle of anonymous informers told Bloomberg that the government has repeatedly failed to meet EU-imposed organisational deadlines.

According to the unnamed sources, Madrid won't receive any more of the EU's "Next Generation" Covid recovery funds until it's put in place a computer system to log payments to businesses and local governments - a year after the first deadline for doing so.

The system was supposed to be up and running by the end of 2021, but Spain was given an extra nine months when it failed to meet that target. However, last month also came and went without any sign of the software being operational.

Somewhat bizarrely, given that the whole point of this non-existent system is to make clear and public exactly where all this money is going (or not going, as seems to be the case), the informants requested anonymity because, as Bloomberg put it, the "process is private".

What's not private is the amount of Covid recovery funds that have already been documented as spent - a rather paltry seven billion euros.

When Pedro Sanchez unveiled this year's budget in October 2021, as the first deadline for implementation of the computer system expired in the background, he said Spain would receive 27 billion euros to play with over the forthcoming twelve months.

Yet pointless, multi-layered bureaucracy and sheer governmental incompetence are preventing that money from reaching its intended recipients.

Who are these intended recipients, anyway?

It's sometimes hard to remember that the Next Gen handouts are also risibly dubbed "Covid recovery funds" (indeed I've already made that mistake twice in this column), because at first glance they have nothing to do with repairing the damage caused by lockdowns.

Of the 70 billion euros promised to Spain in loans, 70% has been earmarked for greenification and digitalisation, including a raft of incentives to encourage people to buy electric cars - a key post-Covid priority for many drivers, apparently.

Only 10% is going on education and training.

What, you might wonder, has any of that got to with helping businesses, individuals and households recover from the government's disastrous response to the virus? Nada.

So there are two problems with these supposedly all-conquering EU funds: they're not being spent on the wrong projects.

The real issue isn't the lack of a computer system that for some reason is taking years to build, though; it's that they weren't aimed at the right areas in the first place.

It'll take more than a few souped-up spreadsheets to fix that.