22 March: Hey, big spender

Greece’s woe continues.

On Tuesday last week, the European Commission said 20 member states must pay back a total of €346.5 million in “unduly spent” farm subsidies. Member states failed to apply proper financial controls and permitted ineligible expenditures.

Greece and Poland account for more than half that sum.

Cash-strapped Athens must pay back €132.6 million – most of which went to cotton farmers who were “overshooting” quotas. Brussels also identified “severe and persistent weaknesses” in Greece’s rural development measures.

Meanwhile, the commission will seek to claw back €92 million from Poland for “acceptance of ineligible land for payments” and “insufficient” checks in regions with high error rates.

Spain took bronze. Madrid must pay back €47.5 million, mostly for including an “ineligible cost of environmental management of packaging” to subsidies given in the fruit and vegetable sector.

Other big beasts of European farming had their knuckles wrapped too.

France is also guilty of ineligible costs, as well as “weak controls” in the environmental standards for animal farms. Paris must return €19.5 million.

And Britain was asked to return €14.2 million for failing to meet statutory deadlines for direct payments and €3.5 million for failing to run the rural development scheme properly.

This week also saw the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee launch a debate on CAP reform.

At a public hearing of experts, the MEP drafting the EP’s resolution on the future of the CAP, George Lyon, said the CAP “is part of the solution of new challenges”, which has “some of the answers to the questions set out in the EU 2020 strategy.”

He also said the CAP needs to be “fairer, greener and more sustainable”

Most speakers at Wednesday’s public hearing – including MEPs, farmers’ representatives and academics – reportedly advocated keeping the policy at EU level, on the grounds that introducing co-financing could spell the end of the CAP.

Speakers also advocated introducing tools to restrain price volatility, stressing agriculture’s benefits for society as a whole. The majority also agreed that the Single Payment Scheme is unfair in distributing funds, among both member states and farmers.

The eve of the EP debate saw the launch of the “European food declaration” signed by almost 200 European, national & local organizations from 24 member states. They are “concerned with the future of food and agriculture in Europe” and are “actively engaged in building a viable alternative to the current food production, distribution and consumption – from the bottom up.”

Wednesday last week also saw Europe’s environment commissioner, Janez Potocnik, call for a “profound greening” of the CAP. Addressing the third Forum for the Future of Agriculture in Brussels, Potocnik said “we need nothing less than a CAP that respects [soil and water] and promotes practices that use them in a sustainable and resource-efficient way. We also need a CAP that can invest in protecting and restoring them when they have been degraded, contaminated or polluted.”

Moreover, Potocnik sees the existence “somewhere in the future” of a ‘Common Agricultural and Environmental Policy’.

On the capreform.eu blog this week, Valentin Zahrnt discusses the wide range of CAP-related research published by the OECD. After last month’s meeting of OECD agricultural ministers – the first since 1998 – the OECD “issued a communiqué that touches on everything and says close to nothing,” Valentin says.

No matter. For crunchy analysis, just look at its output, like its regular report on the Environmental Performance of Agriculture in OECD countries, its “flagship” country-level analysis of agricultural policies, or its thematic pieces, like a 2009 report that compares the liberalization experience in various OECD countries.

Meanwhile, on his CAP blog, Wyn Grant notes that brokered trade of single farm payment entitlements is almost double that of a year ago with prices noticeably higher than in 2009. English flat area or area-only entitlements are changing hands at about £185 a hectare while a full entitlement is worth £225 a hectare.

Elsewhere this week, ICTSD reported that EU agriculture policies came under scrutiny at the year’s first meeting of the WTO’s regular committee on agriculture, as exporting countries quizzed the EU on its subsidy spending.

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