EU's record recovery fund at risk as countries struggle to meet deadline

By Belén Carreño, Robert Muller and Sergio Goncalves MADRID/PRAGUE/LISBON (Reuters) - The risk that European Union governments will not be able to spend the largest aid

package in its history is growing as members struggle to meet deadlines imposed by the bloc, officials from four countries have told Reuters. Difficulties in renegotiating

the 724-billion-euro post-pandemic recovery plan - less than two years after it was approved - raises doubts about its ability to deliver at all, said Manuel Hidalgo, a senior

fellow at the Esade Centre for Economic Policy, a Madrid-based think-tank. "If all the money isn't spent this will have a reputational cost for the EU," Hidalgo said. "If it

doesn't turn out well they will have to justify many things, such as the very existence of these kinds of plans." The thorniest issue will be securing unanimity from the

bloc's 27 members on extending the disbursement of financing beyond 2026, which would require approval in each country's parliament, including Hungary and Poland, which are

already at odds with the EU and may use their support as leverage to secure concessions. The EU froze funds earmarked for Hungary and Poland over their nationalist

governments' track record of undercutting liberal democratic rules. Poland's access to nearly 36 billion euros of funds is dependent on an overhaul of its judicial system.

The EU is withholding 5.8 billion euros until Hungary implements measures to curb corruption and boost its judiciary's independence.