Thursday

21st Jan 2021

EU court strikes down farm aid transparency project

  • Farmers' right to privacy has trumped transparency rules (Photo: European Commission)

In a major blow to transparency campaigners, the European Union's highest court on Tuesday (9 November) ruled that the publication of names and details of individual farmers receiving agricultural aid infringes their right to privacy.

"The obligation to publish the names of natural persons who are beneficiaries of such aid and the exact amounts which they have received constitutes, with regard to the objective of transparency, a disproportionate measure," the court said in a statement.

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The case was filed by the owners of two farms in Germany - Volker and Markus Schecke and Hartmut Eifert - who objected to the publication of their names, address and the amount of EU farm money received.

Disclosure of all EU farm subsidy beneficiaries became obligatory in 2007, after intense campaigning from transparency groups and journalists uncovering big food companies and royals among the top recipients, instead of the small farmers struggling to get their products on a market dominated by chain retailers.

Germany and Ireland on Tuesday promptly took down the websites listing all the beneficiaries, despite the court ruling only relating to individuals, not companies or associations.

Irish farm groups were enthusiastic about the decision as they have always claimed that publication of these details was a "snooper's charter".

While the two countries have taken down their websites, Farmsubsidy.org, a portal ran by journalists uncovering the stories behind the figures, still has the data available on its own pages, along with a ranking of the top beneficiaries. Dutch dairy company Campina comes out on top, having received €1.6 billion since 1997.

One of their stories, about a Bulgarian junior minister of agriculture, Dimitar Peychev, led to his arrest and criminal investigation. In 2009, the former minister's wife and daughter received over €1.5 million in subsidies from European programmes intended for farming at the same time that he was responsible for distributing money meant for general EU policies.

Farmsubsidy founder Jack Thurston said that although the ruling may "look like a defeat for advocates of budget transparency," the motivation of the court is rather an argument for more transparency. In its argumentation, the European Commission had not included the proper legal basis for disclosing the data.

"This can easily be fixed by redrafting the disclaimer text," Mr Thurston added.

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