Business fear for SMEs’ access to the anti-pandemic fund

The Navas-based company UPB Genetic World is preparing a business project that would fit with the EU’s economic recovery plan, but does not yet know who to apply for funding from.

UPB Genetic World is dedicated to pig genetics and is working on a project to treat manure in two ways: reduce pollutant gas emissions and take advantage of animal manure to make biofertilizers, explains its director, David Coll. “It’s a project that fits well with the European plan,” says Coll.

Indeed, the EU’s anti-pandemic program plans to allocate € 750 billion by 2027 to environmental and digitalisation projects in the economy. Coll, however, explains that the company is waiting to know which administration to go to to access the funds.

The president of the Spanish government, Pedro Sánchez, announced last week that between 2021 and 2023 he will mobilize 72 billion of the 140 billion that will be spent in Spain. The state is the one who has to present the projects to the EU and has as the limit of the first call in April 2021. For its part, the Generalitat expects to receive the 31,765 million euros that -in its opinion- correspond to these funds, for which it has drawn up its own recovery plan. An expert committee will evaluate each project.

The Montsià Rice Chamber is an agricultural cooperative in Amposta. The company is used to developing projects with the support of European funds, such as the New Rice, to develop new varieties of rice that grow with high salinity water, promoted with the University of Barcelona and companies from other European countries. According to its manager, Jeroni Fargas, the company has some plans to computerize farms and improve the traceability of products that “could be of interest” in the face of aid from the anti-pandemic fund. However, he points out that the reconstruction program is still in a “very initial” phase, so they have not considered how to apply for grants.

In this sense, the project of New Rice is an example of the fact that smaller companies will have to present “collaborative” projects to access the funds, says Abraham Arcos, director of the innovation foundation of the employer Cecot, as is currently the case with other European programs business or research support.

In fact, how much money will go to SMEs and how much will go to the accounts of large companies is one of the questions that most employers worry about, especially in Catalonia, where the former abound.

However, the leader of Cecot recalls that the 72 billion initially announced by the Spanish government will have to be spent in three years, which suggests that there will be “big calls” where a priori multinationals can have an advantage. “It’s a lot of money in a short period of time,” he says.

The CEOE has not gotten wet on what the distribution between large and small companies should be, a fact that will also depend on the projects that end up being submitted. But he believes that both the CEOE and the other employers will have to “fight for the little ones to have space” in the funds.

Advances from the State

“The CEOE will have to act as a hub” to channel private projects with the Spanish government, explains Arcos. The state executive, he says, is willing to advance money through advances, as Europe‘s payments can be delayed over time. “Time is what worries me the most, because one thing is a plan and the other is reality,” he emphasizes.

For now, the Spanish government’s program “is fine, but it is generalist” and does not specify any project, says Arcos. And the European Commission, beyond the first presentation with the master lines, has not given many more details. However, Arcos believes that, although in the end there are companies that do not receive money, the request for funds from the EU can be “an excuse” for them to come up with innovative ideas. “We need to talk about what investments are needed and what can be included in the recovery plan, but the most important thing is to do things,” he said.


Poisoned negotiation in Brussels

EU heads of state and government announced in July a historic deal to make a 750 billion fund to mitigate the economic crisis caused by covid. But it was only the first stone. The most important, but not the definitive. It was a political agreement that must be reflected in legislation that is difficult to draft. The European Parliament has to say yes, and then the national parliaments have to ratify that the Commission is allowed to issue debt to get the money. But the European Parliament wants more because the deal cut the European budget until 2027, something rich countries do not plan to grant. In addition, it wants a strict mechanism for conditioning the funds to comply with the rule of law, facts that Hungary and Poland reject. This shock makes it difficult for the money to be in early 2021.

Uncertainties in applying for funds

And once the money arrives in Spain, how is it requested? It is one of the questions that has been transferred to the government for days. Moncloa will coordinate the process, led by the director of the Economic Office. However, Spanish government sources detail that the funds can be accessed through grants, consortia or with the call for aid. There are still doubts about whether there will be a single window or several, but depending on the area (ecological transition, digitalization, gender equality and social and territorial cohesion) the ministries will launch calls for companies and organizations to submit projects . Government sources also say that communities will play a relevant role in those areas where they have competencies. However, the Spanish government has promised to eliminate bureaucratic obstacles.


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