Wednesday

24th Apr 2019

EU farm subsidies remain cloaked in secrecy

  • New privacy rules keep 92 percent of common agricultural policy beneficiaries secret, says farmsubsidy.org (Photo: caese)

Beneficiaries of EU farm subsidies totaling some €55 billion annually are cloaked behind a veil of secrecy, said the pro-transparency group of journalists and activists at Farmsubsidy.org on Wednesday (9 May).

EU laws on financial transparency require member states to reveal the beneficiaries. But so far the identity of over 90 percent of beneficiaries remains unknown, says the group.

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Around 45 percent, or €22 billion of the total annual EU farm-pay under the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP) has been published. CAP is the only EU policy where the majority of public spending in member states is taken from the EU budget. Alone, it represents around 40 percent of the EU budget and is due for reform in 2013.

Cyprus, Greece and Luxembourg have published no farm subsidy data at all while Ireland, France, Italy and the Netherlands have designed systems to prevent access to the data.

“We are experiencing a backlash against open government at the EU level and much of it is founded upon a misplaced sensitivity about personal privacy. These are subsidies to farm enterprises, not medical records,” Farmsubsidy.org co-founder Jack Thurston said.

A ruling over privacy versus transparency by the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice is being used by member states to keep the data secret. The court claims EU transparency laws can violate a natural person’s right to privacy.

But Farmsubsidy.org disputes the claim, arguing member states “are using a very broad definition of ‘natural person’ to keep as much data as possible from entering the public domain”.

“It’s really crazy the way governments are trying to keep this data secret. They use all kinds of technical tricks but I am confident we will succeed in the end,” Farmsubsidy.org’s Nils Mulvad said.

Farmsubsidy’s persistence, investigative work and collaboration with experts and journalists has managed to crack open some of the data.

They compiled a list of 1,539 beneficiaries who received more than €1 million each in 2011. Altogether, they represent some €3.8 billion of EU farm subsidy. Most of them are public bodies, suggesting they are refusing to reveal the true end beneficiaries.

At the top of the list is Spain’s Junta de Andalucia, the regional governing body of the autonomous state, which took almost €100 million in EU farm subsidies.

Italy’s ISMEA, an agricultural institute based in Tuscany, followed in second place with €58 million. And in close third, is France’s poultry industry Doux in Chatelian, which received €55 million.

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The European Commission on Wednesday released keenly awaited proposals to overhaul its farm policy from 2014, capping payments to single farms and obliging the EU's 12 million landowners to become greener. But CAP reformists say they don't go far enough.

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