European Union leaders Friday signed an $814-billion package of grants and low-interest loans intended to help the bloc’s member nations recover from the record recession brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The package is the central component of a $908-billion recovery plan approved by the EU last year. Member nations must ratify the plan to allow the European Commission – the EU’s executive arm – to borrow funds on the market.
At a news conference in Brussels, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen urged EU nations to move quickly, because the commission will go to the market, raise the funds and disburse them as soon as possible. She expected the first of the recovery money by about the middle of the year.
The 27-member governments have until the end of April to submit detailed plans on how they will spend the money. Under EU guidelines, the plans must dedicate at least 37 percent of their budgets to addressing climate change and at least 20 percent to “digital transformation” – updating their nation’s technology infrastructure. The funding will be available for three years.
The commission says that so far, 19 EU countries have submitted draft plans, while seven other countries have plans underway.
Von der Leyen also told reporters the European Commission hopes to see 70 percent of the EU population vaccinated for COVID-19 by the end of summer – September 21.