Governments depend on companies when it comes to green and digital recovery

EU gives money for recovery, but member states pick the projects. It’s important, how the Nordics invest the money at home, but export opportunities for green and digital solutions can be even bigger. Lotta Nymann-Lindegren writes about, how governments across Europe depend on companies for creating good projects that can help them reach the desired results.

Talking about green recovery has a bit of Groundhog Day flair to it. The pandemic seems to have been with us forever, and the political framework for the EU recovery package, containing a sweeping 750 billion euro in loans and grants mostly aimed for green and digital recovery, was agreed already last summer. But the good news is, that the time when the EU funds can actually be mobilised, is approaching fast. The necessary legal instruments should be in place by May, which is also the deadline for national plans on how the money will be spent. And here’s where it gets interesting.

Apart from setting the overall goals – 57% of the money to green and digital – the EU will not decide how recovery money should be used. That’s up to the member states themselves. Yes, the Commission will review their national Recovery and Resilience Plans, and yes, other member states have the possibility to veto them if they think that money would not be wisely spent. But presuming that the Commission does its job properly and member states follow the common criteria, there are good possibilities to prioritise sectors that countries see as important.

The Finnish government published a draft of its national recovery programme last week, focusing on green transition, digitalisation, employment and skills as well as health and social services. The plan contains no flagship projects, and it seems that much of the responsibility for selecting projects will be delegated to the government innovation fund Business Finland as well as regional authorities. So the real competition for how to spend the money is only about to begin, with first tendering processes expected after the summer.

On the menu are issues ranging from charging infrastructure for electric vehicles and energy-efficiency of buildings to high-speed internet connections. How the government intends to ensure, that the individual projects actually meet the EU goals is still somewhat unclear – but the bright side should be, that projects with reliable and measurable results have a competitive advantage.

One aspect less present in the Finnish recovery debate concerns the export opportunities – and this is a pity. Because in addition to being active in the home market, businesses should be looking for opportunities also in other EU member states, many of which will receive considerably larger amounts of funding than, for example, Finland. Italy, France, Poland and Spain top the list, and they will be interested in finding the best projects to reach their green and digital goals. From digitalisation of the public sector to energy renovations and infrastructure, the opportunities are multiple – and Nordic businesses have typically a lot to offer here. Public procurement and state aid rules are harmonised in the EU, so companies should be able to participate on equal footing, and the quest for financing should also increase interest in partnerships.

All national recovery programmes will be published when adopted, but the picture in Brussels on what issues are important is already quite clear. And the fact is, that governments across Europe depend on companies for enabling good projects that can help them reach the desired results. We at Miltton are happy to help find information on the opportunities available and hope, that Nordic solutions can pave the way to a sustainable and circular future for the whole of Europe.

Lotta Nyman-Lindegren is Miltton Europe’s Director and Senior Advisor, a Finn who has a home in Denmark and an office chair in Brussels.