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21st Apr 2019

Auditors: No idea if EU's €18.3bn young farmers scheme worked

  • Many ageing farmers in Europe face the same question: who will take over the business? (Photo: Clark Young)

There is little evidence that EU programmes aimed at supporting young farmers in Europe has actually helped secure those farmers' future, a report by the European Court of Auditors (ECA) said on Thursday (29 June).

Between 2007 and 2020, the European Union will have spent €9.6 billion on programmes for young farmers, with governments adding another €8.7 billion from national coffers.

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  • Young farmers can benefit from EU subsidies, but it is unclear how it is helping them beyond providing an extra income (Photo: European Parliament)

“But we found little evidence about the outcome of these measures and whether they actually help young farmers, mainly because of insufficient targeting and low quality indicators,” said auditor Janusz Wojciechowski in a prepared statement.

The institution, despite its name, is not a court but instead the EU's audit body. It said “EU support for young farmers is based on a poorly-defined intervention logic, with no expected result and impact specified”.

The share of farmers under 44-years-old has dropped slightly from 22.7 percent in 2005 to 21.4 percent in 2013. The decrease takes place amidst a general decline: the EU had 14.5 million farmers in 2005, but only 10.7 million as of 2013.

To stimulate the new generation taking over farms, the EU has allocated a portion of its farming subsidies to farmers under 40-years-old.

Finding a suitable successor is a problem for many ageing European farmers, but the ECA concluded it was not possible to say whether the EU funds had any positive impact on addressing this challenge.

The auditors looked at France, Italy, Poland, and Spain – four EU countries whose young farmers, altogether, received more than half of the funds.

There are two programmes for young farmers: one is obligatory for all member states, whereas the other is voluntary and includes funds from the member states' national budgets.

In 2015, almost 280,000 young farmers received an average amount of €1,135 from the obligatory scheme. The subsidies are handed out annually during the first five years of the young farmer taking control of the company.

But the ECA said that it was “not clear what young farmers’ needs this payment should address, other than additional income, and what should be its added value”.

The auditors could not find any “documents, studies or data explaining why this additional payment was needed or supporting the assumption that young farmers starting an agricultural activity face financial challenges”.

No coordination

It also said that, in the four audited member states, there was no coordination between the obligatory and voluntary schemes.

“The two measures are managed by different authorities, according to different rules,” the report said.

Under the voluntary scheme, start-up farmers can receive a grant of up to €70,000 if they provide a business plan. But according to the ECA, the business plans were “of variable quality”.

The auditors also said that “in some cases,” the authorities across member states “did not apply selection procedures to prioritise the best projects”.

Additionally, they recommend that before the next funding period begins, from 2020 onward, the European Commission should investigate “why young people [that are] willing to become farmers face barriers in the setting-up process” and how EU aid can help to address that.

The commission, in a response attached to the report, said that it agreed “that it is difficult to establish the relationship between measures taken for young farmers, their viability and the number of young farmers”.

The EU's executive body said it “welcome[d]” the recommendations, but added that it was “not in a position at this stage” to commit to any of them, in relation to the next funding period.

A strategy paper is being produced by the commission on the future of the common agriculture policy, and is expected by the end of this year.

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