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26th Aug 2019

EU opens case against Germany over farm aid

  • Bavarian farmers receiving EU money are reluctant follow the bloc's transparency rules (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission on Tuesday decided to take legal action against Germany after the southern region of Bavaria refused to disclose the names of EU farm aid beneficiaries, as required by the bloc's regulations.

Germany already missed a deadline on 30 April, when all member states were required to publish online the details of those receiving EU farm subsidies. While the federal government did publish the data available to them on Tuesday, the state of Bavaria – home to a number of important farm and agricultural industries - refused to disclose the information, citing privacy issues.

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"Bavaria's decision is incomprehensible and I will now take steps to begin an infringement procedure," EU commissioner for agriculture Mariann Fischer Boel said in a statement.

The so-called infringement procedure, opened whenever a member state is in breach of EU law, can take several years and be dropped whenever the country remedies the situation. If it doesn't, the case is referred to European Court of Justice, which can apply sanctions to the country in question.

"The legal situation is clear. Germany is obliged to publish the details of beneficiaries of the common agricultural policy for the whole country. Every other member state has done so. This is taxpayers' money, so it is very important that people know where it is being spent. Transparency should also improve the management of these funds, by reinforcing public control of how the money is used," Ms Boel stressed.

Yet German farmers have resisted pressure from Brussels for the data to be released, challenging the regulation in national courts on the grounds that it violates their privacy.

"We don't want to put information on the internet that possibly can't be put on the internet like that," said Bavarian premier Horst Seehofer in Munich on Tuesday.

The EU executive dismissed these claims, noting that Germany had voted in favour of this regulation.

"Questions related to data protection were taken into consideration during the development of the transparency legislation. It requires member states to inform the beneficiaries that their data will be made public and that they enjoy the rights accorded to them by EU data protection rules, thus ensuring that the system complies with the requirements of data protection," the commission statement reads.

The new regulation was criticised by journalists and transparency advocacy groups concerned about the misuse of EU agricultural subsidies channelled rather to agribusiness multinationals and royalty than regular farmers.

The data released by the German federal government seems to confirm these fears: multinationals, big sugar producers, dairy and poultry farms were among the biggest recipients of the subsidies. But also names such as Lufthansa and the energy company RWE, Spiegel Online reports.

Top of the list was the sugar company Sudzucker which received €34.4 million last year, followed by the German branch of the biggest European poultry company, Doux, dairy producer Campina, chocolate maker Storck and meat company Tonnies.

Big farms in eastern Germany were the biggest recipients of direct farm aid, but this may change once Bavaria decides to publish the names of its sponsored agricultural businesses.

Electoral gaming also plays a role, as the ruling Bavarian Christian-Social Union, the sister party of Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, is struggling to win over voters ahead of the upcoming general elections.

The federal minister for agriculture, Ilse Aigner, is a CSU member and had to give in to pressure from her own region in blocking the publication of farm-aid beneficiaries. An agreement was then reached between all German states and the federal government to publish the data mid-June, but Bavaria still refused to agree.

Royals and multinationals raking in EU farm aid

Royal landowners and multinational companies were among the biggest beneficiaries of the EU's €55 billion farm aid budget in 2008, a new EU transparency law has shown.

Germany dodges disclosure of EU farm funds

The European Commission on Thursday 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.

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