Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Royals and multinationals raking in EU farm aid

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – Royal landowners and multinational companies were among the biggest beneficiaries of the EU’s €55 billion farm aid budget in 2008, a new EU transparency law has shown.

In France, which alone scooped €10.4 billion of the pot, the Doux Group, which sells chicken products to over 130 countries worldwide, was the biggest single recipient on €62 million.

Major food companies Nestle and Tate & Lyle were the largest UK winners on around €1 million each.

British aristocrats, who command significant personal fortunes, also pocketed sizeable amounts of EU cash. The Queen received around €530,000. The Duke of Westminster got €540,000. Prince Charles took €180,000.

Germany has declined to publish its figures despite the EU deadline for compliance at midnight on 30 April.

Berlin says it faces legal constraints due to data protection laws in local districts. But the European Commission on Thursday (30 April) said it may take the country to the EU courts if it does not fall into line.

Meanwhile, the same funding pattern was repeated in smaller EU states.

In Ireland, frozen food giant Greencore Group received the largest subsidy on €83 million. The Irish Dairy Board Co-op came second on €6.5 million. Kerry Ingredients Ireland was third on €5 million.

Many individual farmers received around €100,000 each. Tom and Aoife Browne from the town of Killeagh got €433,000.

Pulling teeth

Farm aid transparency was pioneered by a group of Danish investigative journalists who in 2004 forced Copenhagen to release its figures and set up the website farmsubsidy.org to pressure other EU states.

The EU law was pushed through by the office of EU anti-fraud commissioner Siim Kallas. The Estonian official, who also created an EU lobbyists’ register, has made transparency his trademark in a bid to secure a second mandate.

Farmsubsidy.org campaigner Jack Thurston has criticised the commission’s initiative, which leaves it up to the 27 EU states to manage their own data revelations, giving a patchy picture of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

“We would have preferred central disclosure by the commission, which does hold all the data itself, but that was a battle we lost,” he said.

The disclosure is unpopular for other reasons among some farmers.

“It does seem a bit much that details of private income are open to all and sundry. Why should such things be open for everyone to see?” Irish cattle and sheep farmers representative Malcolm Thompson told the Irish Times.

The funding revelations have also sparked fresh complaints over the way the EU distributes its largesse.

“These subsidies are divided unfairly. Everyone has known for a long time that there is no link between incomes and subsidies, which results in an unjust system,” French rural workers spokesman Philippe Collin said in Les Echos.

Unpopular policy

The CAP – which is currently being re-modelled to help create new types of rural jobs and to serve environmental goals – has long-attracted criticism for wasting money and killing competition from developing countries.

A study by the University of Liverpool in 2008 even said it kills thousands of Europeans by promoting fatty foods which cause heart disease.

But in eastern Europe, EU subsidies have also helped thousands of small farmers to buy new equipment, boost income and send their children to university for the first time in family history.

In Poland, which has received almost €2 billion already this year, average farm revenue is on its way to doubling from 2004 to 2009.

“The image of the Polish peasant using a horse and plough in his field – it still exists maybe in isolated mountain foothills – but that’s the past. The vast majority of farms in Poland are up to European standards,” Wiktor Szmulewicz of Poland’s National Council of Agricultural Chambers told AFP.

By ANDREW RETTMAN
This article first appeared on EU Observer.