You can not say that about National recovery and resilience plan reign an unconditional trust in the relationship between Rome and Brussels. In recent months, impatience has grown in the European Commission because repeated announcements have arrived from Italy on the revision of the projects, but few details. Meanwhile, the impression has been formed in Palazzo Chigi that Brussels is taking specious attitudes, to the point of blocking the 19 billion euro disbursement (requested as early as January) suddenly bringing up bureaucratic problems never raised before. A background of irritation and suspicion on both sides remains.
But for the installment of the Pnrr that has been expected for months now and for the following one - the third and fourth of the 191.5 billion plan - a path is beginning to be glimpsed. To speed up the disbursement, measures are being taken for a new instrument both in Brussels and in Rome: partial payment suspensions. In the case of the third installment of 19 billion, this clause would imply the payment from Brussels of almost the entire sum foreseen with the exception of 300 or 400 million. For the fourth installment of 16 billion, linked to 27 objectives that Italy should theoretically achieve by June, the portion of frozen payments could instead be higher.
The legal procedure
Legally, this would not be an arbitrary move. Last February, the Commission approved a (binding) communication indicating what to do if a country requests the disbursement of an installment of the Recovery without having achieved all the investment and reform objectives associated with it. Brussels can deduct a sum calculated on the basis of the weight of the missing objectives; at which point the government in question has one month to challenge the freeze on funds and then, if its objection is rejected, six months to get on the line. If the delay continues for even after six months, the already blocked payment amount will be permanently suspended and deducted. In essence, the country loses part of the Recovery money. This legal procedure serves to shield the EU Commission and its officials from the challenges of the European Court of Auditors. Several governments in recent months are actually expressing annoyance at the large number of checks on their plans, precisely because Brussels is working under the sword of Damocles of the Luxembourg accounting judiciary.
A political signal
But whatever the procedures, it is not lost on anyone in Brussels that the decision to freeze a small portion of the funds would be seen in Italy as a political signal. The disbursement of the third installment would take place almost entirely, so as not to open a crisis on the Pnrr and to preserve the liquidity on which the Treasury in Rome counts a lot. But the suspension of 300 or 400 million would make it clear that the Commission expects more collaboration and more transparency from Italy - even preliminary and informal - in view of a revision of the Plan. In fact, it is not enough for the government to include other projects motivating them with the delays of those who will leave the Pnrr: Italy must also demonstrate that the new plans are more suitable than the old ones to accelerate the green, digital transition or the other objectives of the Plan.
The fourth installment
In the meantime, the more difficult discussion on the fourth installment will also come to life. At a technical level, Italy has already let Brussels know that it is behind on ten of the 27 June targets linked to a new 16 billion payment. Some of these issues can be resolved with more flexible interpretations of the commitments: for example, the government should have financed 700 businesses through the Women's Business Fund for women's entrepreneurship, but some procedural steps are missing. Then, however, there are more fundamental problems and not only those related to the awarding of tenders for nursery schools, the delayed tenders for 2,500 electric charging stations on motorways and 4,000 in cities or 40 hydrogen filling stations.
The formal agreement between Rome and Brussels
The most serious question concerns the results of the Superbonus, financed by the Pnrr for 13.5 billion. Indeed, the formal agreement between Rome and Brussels on Recovery states: The cost of installing gas-fired condensing boilers must represent a small part of the overall cost (of the interventions, ed) and must be installed to replace fuel oil fired boilers. Replacing gas boilers with other gas boilers, as almost everyone in Italy has done, in fact violates a basic principle of Recovery: Do not cause significant damage, according to the regulations. On the Superbonus boilers, Italy is therefore out of line for now and it is probable that the suspended quotas of the fourth installment may be higher than those of the third. Between Rome and Brussels, the chess match is just beginning.