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Spain's autonomous communities will be involved in the on-going management, but it will be the central government that will control the use of the 140 billion euros due to arrive from the European fund created to respond to the coronavirus crises. This is the message that prime minister Pedro Sánchez conveyed to the state's regional presidents at the conference held today in the region of La Rioja. According to government sources, the Spanish PM passed on the details of the governance of this recovery fund, which will remain under his leadership. The finance will be distributed based on projects. This centralization clashes head-on with the approach asked for by some autonomous presidents, such as Catalonia's Quim Torra. Torra requested the direct management of this money and how it should be spent. Sánchez argued that there can't be "first and second" classes of autonomous communities.

According to these sources, an inter-ministerial commission chaired by Sánchez will be set up. "The leadership of the recovery fund will be in the hands of the Spanish prime minister," they explain. At the same time, a "monitoring unit" will be set up in the prime minister's department, headed by Sánchez's strategy guru, Iván Redondo. The PM said that there would be public-private collaboration "through a high-level group".

There will also, however, be collaboration between institutions, mainly with the autonomous communities. First, through the so-called sector conferences, bringing together regional adminstrations for each sector, under the leadership of the central government minister of finance, María Jesús Montero. Secondly, "the recovery fund will also be introduced in the regular debates of the upcoming conferences of regional presidents", which Sánchez wants to hold monthly, alternating face-to-face and videoconference formats. Finally, the Spanish government also says it wants to involve local entities in the "governance process".

Earlier, in a speech which was made public, Pedro Sánchez defended that there can be no "first and second" classes of autonomous communities. The Spanish PM asserted that "if our demand to Europe was for the single market not to cause a rift between rich and poor countries, then we ourselves must also follow the same principal."

Torra, the only absence

At the last minute, the Basque leader, lehendakari Íñigo Urkullu, appeared at the meeting venue of Yuso monastery, in San Millán de la Cogolla (La Rioja). He had threatened not to attend the face-to-face conference of presidents called by Pedro Sanchez, but in the line of his PNV party's recent strategy, he managed to reach an economic agreement with the Spanish government just before the meeting, and then turned up. Thus, the only absence was that of Catalan president Quim Torra, who remained in Barcelona, focused on managing the worrying Covid-19 outbreaks in Catalonia. The rest were all there. And furthermore, the meeting was graced by the king Felipe VI, being received with a "Viva el rey!"

On several occasions, the Catalan president had asked to take part electronically, as did other presidents, because he was focused on the management of the new virus outbreaks in Catalonia. But the Spanish executive refused to grant the request and he was not able to participate by video conference. In a letter to Sánchez yesterday, Torra also criticised the king's presence at the meeting: "It is not our role to help sanitise his image by organizing an event linked to a major crisis that has affected so many people in our country, as well as in Spain".

The Catalan government's requests

The Catalan government had already announced its requests in relation to the European Recovery Fund. Firstly, a deficit target of 1% for this year. Secondly, Catalonia demanded to manage up to 30 billion euros of the 140 billion euro total expected to be allocated to Spain. In this regard, Torra and Aragonès presented their project for the economic reactivation of Catalonia which has been agreed with unions and employers.