UK royals could face EU cash cuts
The EU's richest landowners could face sweeping cuts in EU handouts with agriculture commissioner Marian Fischer Boel set to propose a ceiling on Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments to individual holdings.
The move would hit, among others, the English royal family – one of the country's biggest landowners - with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles receiving in 2003-2004 around £1 million (€1.5 million) in CAP subsidies.
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Ms Fischer Boel will look into the matter late next year and in early 2008 to help discipline the bloc's farm aid policy, which gobbles up almost half the EU's annual budget.
"As part of a health check of the CAP reform in 2007-2008, we will propose putting a ceiling on individual CAP payments," Ms Fischer Boel told the FT.
"At the same time we should consider further shifts of resources from direct payments to farmers to support for rural development, to create a broader base of employment."
Any money taken away from large landowners would be diverted into "rural development" funding, which is intended to help to "modernise" rural communities and increase employment off the land.
"It's far too early to start speculating where that ceiling might be," the commissioner's spokesman Michael Mann told journalists in Brussels.
A previous commission plan in 2002 to set a €300,000 per holding per year limit fell foul of member states with big farms, such as the UK and Germany, however.
A British official in Brussels who faught against the 2002 scheme said the limitations would unfairly penalise farmers who built large and efficient holdings.
"The commission has this culture that small farms is how you do farming," he told UK daily The Telegraph.
Collective farmers in the former east Germany are also likely to be badly affected.
But countries such as France, where small farm holdings are common, are more likely to accept any subsidy ceiling proposals.
However, figures by international NGO Oxfam show that the biggest French farming businesses pocket the vast majority of EU agricultural subsidies.
Oxfam research released late last year revealed that the top 15 percent of French farming companies consume 60 percent of the direct payments from the EU's coffers.