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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The truth?

...You can't handle the truth.

From PA:

Europe's agriculture Commissioner lost her cool this afternoon over claims that EU farm subsidies are being handed out to golf clubs and riding stables in the UK.

The findings in a report last week by Europe's financial watchdog resurfaced as Mariann Fischer-Boel was promising a new streamlined, cash-efficient, environmentally-friendly Common Agricultural Policy.

And the 64-year old Dane deployed her excellent ability in the English language to full effect when she told a press conference she was "p***** off" with such "stupid" claims.

Ms Fischer-Boel wanted to focus on her plans to put a ceiling on agricultural grants to Europe's wealthiest farmers, including the Queen and members of the English land-owning aristocracy and make sure EU payments were directed towards poorer hill farmers who most need help.

But she couldn't shake off the damning evidence from the European Court of Auditors.

Asked during the press conference in Brussels about EU payments feeding golf course coffers, Ms Fischer-Boel replied: "Can I start by killing immediately this stupid message that we pay direct payments to golf courses?

"I was disappointed, then surprised, then I became angry to see the Court of Auditors say we paid money for golf courses.

"This is completely out of the question - it has never been our intention."

But, aware that more than 30 UK courses have been receiving EU budget payments under the Common Agricultural Policy, she explained: "There is a situation where you have a company that owns a golf course and next to that they may have some arable or agricultural land, and of course if they are running this land as a farmer then they are entitled to get their direct payment. But we don't support golf courses, let's be very clear, so I hope this discussion is dead."

*Sigh* The contorted phrase "running this land as a farmer" might to the uninitiated suggest that they would have to be farming the land to get the subsidy. But actually, that's not quite true. It just needs to be the right sort of land. As time goes by more and more non farmers will end up owning subsidies (Open Europe already owns one).

As for the idea that the Commission's proposal is a radical new reform... Jack Thurston has the details. Suffice to say it isn't actually new, or a meaningful reform.

What it is is an attempt to distract attention from reform. And to some extent it has worked. Yesterday's Today Programme dutifully reported that the UK and Germany were resisting the Commission's proposals for "reform".

The reality is that trying to set an artificial cap on payments to "individuals" would be instantly circumvented, as individuals, trusts and companies parceled up and dispersed their land into sub-units to get under the threshold.

What would really help tenant farmers would be a reduction in the total spent subsidising the ownership of land - and therefore increasing their rent. But that's not on the agenda.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps you and Jack should have read what the Commissioner said yesterday. I quote:

"To start with let me make three points to clarify what the Health Check is about.

First, the Commission does not see the CAP Health Check as a "new reform". The reforms of recent years give us a good foundation to build on, and our current objectives are valid.

Nevertheless, the Health Check is more than "fine-tuning". The CAP must keep meeting its objectives as well as it could – in a larger European Union, and in a shifting international context. Four years on from the key reform agreement of 2003, we are much better placed to check on this.

Therefore, secondly, the Health Check is a policy initiative in its own right, which will cover necessary adjustments and simplifications for the period 2009 to 2013. However, at the same time, it is also a stepping-stone towards the Mid-Term Review of the European Union's Financial Perspectives – which will examine priorities for after 2013.

Thirdly, today only fires the starting gun for the Health Check. There are questions in the communication. I don't have all the answers here in my handbag! Yes, I have put forward a number of ideas – sometimes in detail – but I'm looking forward to a full discussion in the months ahead."

Michael Mann

Open Europe blog team said...

I think point one is exactly the problem...

Anonymous said...

It's not just golf courses. Check out this list of Danish pony clubs that are getting CAP farm subsidies, to the tune of a €366 370 over the past two years.