Monday

12th Apr 2021

UK delays publication of EU farm subsidy details till post-election

  • Sugar companies look set to top the list of CAP recipients for 2009 (Photo: EUobserver)

Britain's civil service has decided to delay the publication of farm subsidy payments until after this Thursday's (6 May) general election. The deadline for publishing the data outlining who received what under the EU's common agricultural policy (CAP) was midnight last Friday.

A message on the UK's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) website simply says: "Due to the general election campaign, this website will not be updated with the 2009 figures until after the election."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

UK officials said the practice is standard procedure. "It is not appropriate for us to publish this information at this point on the basis that some of the details may refer to people standing for election," Defra spokesman Paul Leat told this website.

"It could be seen to be favouring the ruling party of specific individuals," he added.

Conservative politicians, some of whom are large landowners, usually outdo their Labour and Liberal colleagues when it comes to receiving CAP payments, causing potential embarrassment ahead of the vote.

The European Commission said it was unhappy, however. "The commission is disappointed and is going to write to the British authorities underlining that this is not in line with the directive," said EU agriculture spokesman Roger Waite.

Last year, Germany initially held off from publishing details on who received what under the CAP in 2008, the first year for which the new EU's rules applied. It eventually capitulated in June.

Politicians in the southern state of Bavaria held out for even longer, concerned that payment details could factor into the regional elections being held last September. In the end, it too backed down after the commission started infringement proceedings.

A number of German citizens are currently challenging the legality of the new procedure on the grounds that it contravenes data protection rights. The European Court of Justice is due to rule before the end of this year.

Details of who receives what under the EU's controversial agricultural policy caused a stir last year when it was discovered that some of the largest recipients were businesses and independently wealthy individuals.

One Spanish construction company in northeast Spain, Arids Roma, received €1.59 million in farm subsidies from the European Union, with Queen Elizabeth II of England and Prince Albert II of Monaco also among the largest beneficiaries. CAP spending in 2008 exceeded €50 billion, by far the largest slice of the EU budget.

Analysts have speculated that the decision by UK civil servants may be linked to the expected change of government in the country, with the Conservative party currently holding a narrow lead in opinion polls.

"Perhaps the civil servants are trying to curry favour with their new bosses," suggested Jack Thurston from agricultural watchdog group Farm Subsidy.

French resistance

Mr Thurston is currently holed up with a team of researchers in an office in the Brussels' Port De Namur area, poring over data provided by other member states in an effort to identify possible abuses of the EU policy.

The team use "web-scrapers" to go through the figures, computer software programmes that search the data at a faster rate than is humanly possible.

Despite the UK decision to temporary withhold figures, Mr Thurston says France is one the worst offenders when it comes to the transparency of CAP payments.

Member states are obliged to publish the data on national departmental websites. Some, such as the Czech Republic, choose to publish the data in a single downloadable format, while others require internet users to search by region or name, making it far harder to get an overall picture.

"The French website is proving a little problematic," he said. "You can only get 500 results when you search the page."

Italian and Portuguese data is also difficult to access.

"Some governments want to control the data without giving it easily to third parties. They are following the legislation in theory but not in practice," Mr Thurston added.

Sugar

The group is set to publish its initial findings this Tuesday, concentrating in particular on the bloc's "subsidy millionaires," individuals or businesses who receive over €1 million from the EU policy.

Sugar companies look set to top the list again, with French companies Tereos (€117.9 million) and Saint Louis Sucre (€143.7 million euros) among the top recipients.

EU officials said the sugar sector benefited from special export subsidies in 2009. CAP export aids which enable European exporters to remain competitive on world markets by compensating for the EU's higher prices are blamed by development agencies for stifling agriculture in some of the world's poorest regions.

Exclusive

Four deaths after taking Russian Sputnik V vaccine

Four people recently died after taking Russia's Sputnik V anti-corona jab in previously unreported cases, which are being taken "seriously" by the EU regulator, the European Medicines Agency.

Opinion

After 50 years, where do Roma rights stand now?

Beatings, forced sterilisation, police violence and fire bombings by right-wing extremists against Romani communities are still a reality in Europe. The corona pandemic only worsened this situation.

News in Brief

  1. Turkey blames EU for sexist protocol fiasco
  2. France to close elite civil-service academy
  3. Covid-19 cases in UK drop 60%, study finds
  4. White House urges 'calm' after Northern Ireland riots
  5. Italy's Draghi calls Turkey's Erdoğan a 'dictator'
  6. Slovakia told to return Sputnik V amid quality row
  7. EU risks €87bn in stranded fossil fuel assets
  8. Obligatory vaccination not against human rights, European court says

Column

Why Germans understand the EU best

In Germany, there is commotion about a new book in which two journalists describe meetings held during the corona crisis between federal chancellor Angela Merkel, and the 16 prime ministers of its federal constituent states.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. The Covid bell tolls for eastern Europe's populists
  2. Four deaths after taking Russian Sputnik V vaccine
  3. Post-Brexit riots flare up in Northern Ireland
  4. Advice on AstraZeneca varies across EU, amid blood clot fears
  5. Greenland election could see halt to rare-earth mining
  6. After 50 years, where do Roma rights stand now?
  7. Why Iran desperately wants a new nuclear deal
  8. Does new EU-ACP deal really 'decolonise' aid?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us