Let the recovery begin: EU chief OKs some virus plans

International

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen meets with Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa at the Center for Living Science in Lisbon, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. The president of the European Commission has started in Lisbon a tour of some European Union capitals to announce the initial endorsement of their plans for spending the bloc’s massive economic recovery fund. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — The European Union moved a step closer Wednesday to deploying the bloc’s massive pandemic recovery fund, with a top executive going to Portugal and Spain to announce the bloc’s initial endorsement of their national spending plans.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrived in Portugal, which was the first of the EU’s 27 countries to formally present ideas for spending its share of the 800 billion euros ($970 billion) earmarked last year to help countries out of a sharp economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The money is to be distributed in the form of grants and credit. The EU’s 1.1 trillion-euro ($1.3 trillion) seven-year budget from next year will also help national economies.

In Portugal, von der Leyen told Prime Minister António Costa that his government’s plan for how to use its 16.6 billion-euro windfall ($20 billion) has earned the European Commission’s blessing. The final approval for EU countries’ plans is still weeks away.

Portugal says much of its spending will go to improving the public health network, reducing pollution from public transportation, making housing more energy efficient and buying computers for schools.

So far, 23 of the EU’s 27 countries have submitted their spending plans to Brussels authorities, which vet them to ensure they are in line with the bloc’s policy goals. EU officials will follow up later to check whether nations are abiding by their commitments.

After Portugal, Von der Leyen was scheduled to be in Spain later in the day to meet with Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

She also plans to visit Greece, Denmark and Luxembourg later this week to support their plans.

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