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Spain poised to wean itself off assistance
06 July 2010 @ 15:00

For more than a generation Spaniards have been reflexively pro-European, conscious of their turbulent 20th-century history of internal strife and instinctively following the dictum of José Ortega y Gasset, the philosopher and writer, that “Spain is the problem, Europe the solution”.

Since 1986, when Spain joined the European Union, this attachment has been reinforced with copious amounts of money raised in Germany and other wealthy EU member states in the north and directed via the EU budget to the southern European states on the Mediterranean rim. For the 2007-13 period, Spain is to receive more than €35bn ($44bn) the EU says.

Such has been the success of the programme, sometimes known as Spain’s Marshall Plan after the US assistance plan for postwar Europe, that Spain is poised to wean itself off the EU’s funds and is contemplating the disturbing possibility of becoming a net contributor to the collective budget.

Figures just released for 2009 by Eurostat, the European statistics agency, show Spain’s per capita gross domestic product has reached 103 per cent of the EU average, four percentage points behind France and just ahead of Italy. That is above the limit for receipt of so-called “cohesion” funds, though poorer regions will still have access to “structural” funds.

It is clear that some of the cash that helped propelled Spain into the ranks of the world’s richer nations has been misspent. That has helped deepen German and British doubts, already aroused by the financial crisis and the bail-out for Greece, about the wisdom of being so generous towards the southern members of the EU.

But, given the large sums spent on roads, railways and other projects, payments such as the €22.5m spent helping to finance luxury hotels in the Canaries appear to be a small proportion of the total.

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