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23rd Feb 2020

Germany dodges disclosure of EU farm funds

  • German farmers receiving EU aid will be kept undisclosed. (Photo: EUobserver)

The European Commission on Thursday (24 April) expressed its surprise at Germany's decision not to disclose the names of the farmers receiving EU aid, as every member state is required to do by 30 April.

A new regulation adopted last year after a long-fought battle with journalists and transparency groups requires all member states to publish on a website the names of all beneficiaries of EU agricultural aid, which accounts to some €55 billion a year, representing 43 percent of the EU budget.

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"We are surprised at the situation because Germany voted and accepted this regulation. We are waiting for Germany to reverse its position, and if by 30 April the position has not changed, then there will be an infringement procedure," Natalie Charbonneau, spokeswoman for the commission said at a press briefing.

The threat is however a mild one, since the infringement, a legal procedure initiated by the commission when a member state breaches EU law – takes years until the case is brought before the European Court of Justice. It can also be cancelled at any stage if the country reverses the measure.

Claiming data protection issues, German agriculture minister Ilse Aigner on Wednesday recommended: "temporarily suspending the publication of further information on the beneficiaries of agricultural funding." Germany is the only country to have done so.

Ms Aigner is a member of the troubled Social Conservative Union (CSU), a Bavarian sister-party of chancellor Merkel's Christian Democratic Union. Bavaria, known for its large car industry base, is also home to some large landowners.

Apart from the June European elections, when the CSU is set to miss the threshold to enter the European Parliament, Germany is also in pre-campaign mode ahead of the September general elections.

"This is a disgrace. The handful of politicians and judges in Germany who are opposing transparency are acting as the puppets of big agri-business and wealthy landowners, who's only interest is to keep the German people in the dark about the reality of farm subsidies," Jack Thuston, co-founder of www.farmsubsidy.org, the journalist-launched initiative behind the EU requirement, said in a statement.

He also pointed to the fact that the commission can release the names of the beneficiaries if a member state dodged this requirement, because the EU executive does have this data on file.

"Farmsubsidy.org originally proposed that the commission publish the information in one single dataset, partly because it would be simpler, less bureaucratic and less fragmented, and partly in anticipation that some member states would backslide from their obligations, as Germany is now doing. Unfortunately the commission chose to pass the responsibility down to member states," he added.

Also on Friday, a court in Munster ruled that the publication of names, addresses and amounts of EU funding received by farmers complies with German legislation. The ruling cannot be challenged further.

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