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Monday, August 8, 2022

German government secretive about use of recovery funds

By: V4 Agency

The EU is spending more than €700 billion on an unprecedented economic recovery fund. However, citing dubious reasons, the German government has denied access to the documents detailing the amounts, and it also demanded that the European Commission in Brussels should withhold the information.

The summer of 2020 saw a decision taken at an EU summit to earmark 724 billion euros for a recovery fund in a bid to alleviate the crisis induced by the coronavirus pandemic. Germany was among the first to secure tens of billions of euros from the sum, with then finance minister Olaf Scholz playing a significant role in the process, the Welt writes. Working together with the journalists of 13 other EU member states, the German daily is looking into how the European Commission (EC) and the national governments of the countries decide about the allocation of the billions of euros. When, however, the reporters attempted to access the documents related to the decision-making process, they encountered unusually strong resistance from the EC and some states, especially Germany.

Under the current chancellor, Olaf Scholz, first the finance ministry and then the Chancellery were strongly opposed to the disclosure of the recovery fund documents. The European Commission also refused to disclose a number of documents regarding the control mechanisms in connection with the use of the funds in Germany and did not provide information pertaining to other member states, either. Welt wrote that it would also be important to increase transparency because the decision about the use of the recovery fund is almost always in the hands of bureaucrats, with taxpayers being unable to learn how the German government is spending the EU’s money.

The Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information reprimanded Scholz’s ministry in November 2021, saying that it had failed to provide journalists with an adequate explanation and recommended that the ministry reconsider its decision. Welt emphasized that the federal ministry’s move to block access to the documents was not based on German laws alone. The German government also requested that the European Commission in Brussels deny access to most of the documents pertaining to Germany’s financial plan. Thus, even if taxpayers asked authorities in Brussels, they would not get information on the plans based on which Germany’s recovery fund application was approved.

So what exactly happened during these negotiations between Berlin and Brussels, Welt’s journalist asks, as both the German government and the Commission are secretive about the time period when detailed discussions were still taking place in Brussels.

The journalists have called for greater transparency, but the European Commission argues that releasing the financial documents would put German financial stability at risk. The German government denied the release of a total of 247 documents on the grounds that “disclosure would undermine international diplomacy”. Welt recalled that Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has repeatedly pledged to ensure transparency in terms of the EU recovery fund. In general, the politician is a vocal advocate of transparency in the European Union.

The few accessible documents reveal that former staff members of Peter Altmaier (CDU), then economy minister, complained that they barely had the opportunity to contribute to making decisions concerning the billions of euros to come from EU funds. Instead, the decision to put the Chancellery and the finance ministry in charge of preparing a proposal for the recovery plan was made by then Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz . According to Welt, the Chancellor’s office and the ministry acted in harmony to steer any other actors as far away from the decision-making process as possible in order to “prevent a competition of alternative ideas from unfolding”. The paper also adds that. in the months to follow, the economy ministry repeatedly thwarted attempts by state-level governments to have their voices heard.

The issue has provoked an outburst of furious responses online. One user posted a sarcastic message on Twitter, saying “I love transparency within the EU! Especially if championed by Scholz!”

“Stop deluding yourself! Democracy was nice, but that’s over now,” another user commented.

“The way the EU and Olaf Scholz are beating about the bush is simply scandalous! As if it weren’t about our money we pay in taxes,” another angry user remarked.

“The government has forgotten who voted for these parties,” yet another comment read.

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