Germany pressured to disclose farm aid beneficiaries

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The European Commission yesterday (23 April) threatened Germany with infringement proceedings should it fail to publish a list of recipients of EU farm subsidies by the end of the month.

The EU executive decided to move as a 30 April deadline for making public details of the beneficiaries of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funding, together with full details of amounts received, fast approaches. 

The Commission said it was “surprised and disappointed” by suggestions that Germany may not publish the information before the deadline. 

An EU regulation adopted last March – and supported by Germany – requires all member states to make publicly available, by this month’s deadline, websites that allow people to search for CAP beneficiaries by name, municipality or amount received (see ‘Background’). 

Members of the public must also be able to extract the information as a single set of data. 

Germany is the only country not to have yet done so. Citing data protection concerns, German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner on Wednesday recommended “temporarily suspending” publication of the information. 

Many German Länder reacted quickly to her remarks, with Hessen, Bavaria and Schleswig-Holstein among those announcing decisions not to publish the data, German agriculture news site ‘top agrar’ reported. 

German farmers are reportedly concerned about making public details of the €5.4 billion they receive annually from the EU, arguing that doing so would contravene the country’s data protection laws. 

“If they do suspend publication, we will react accordingly,” warned EU Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel. “This could mean starting infringement proceedings against Germany.” 

The Commission said it cannot agree to the suspension because data protection issues had already been taken into account in developing the legislation, which received the backing of all member states. 

“We are very surprised. Germany voted in favour of this proposal and the legal situation is clear. Germany is obliged to implement this legislation,” Fischer Boel added. 

Under EU rules, only the European Court of Justice can declare a regulation invalid. 

Berlin has already complied with a separate requirement, in force since September 2008, to publish recipients of EU rural development funding. 

Meanwhile, EU agriculture ministers meeting in Luxembourg will today hold discussions on the simplification of the CAP. 

Expressing surprise that Germany may not publish its list of CAP beneficiaries on time, EU Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said it was "very important" for people to know where taxpayers' money is being spent. 

"Transparency should also improve the management of these funds by reinforcing public control of how the money is used," Fischer Boel explained, adding: "Only in this way can we guarantee an informed debate about the future of the Common Agricultural Policy." 

In March 2008, the Commission adopted a regulation requiring member states to make public lists of all recipients of EU agricultural subsidies, together with full details of amounts received, by 30 April 2009 (EURACTIV 20/03/08). 

The move, originally announced in October 2006 (EURACTIV 11/10/06) as part of a revision of EU financial regulations, was designed to put an end to the traditional secrecy surrounding handouts from the EU's largest fund, the Common Agricultural Policy, and allow the general public to monitor how the €55 billion – 43% of the EU budget - is spent. 

Member states were asked to set up individual websites to make the information available, while the EU executive set up its own portal with links to the national sites. 

Meanwhile in October, the Commission launched a website making details of beneficiaries of all types of EU funding available for the first time (EURACTIV 03/10/08). 

The 'Financial Transparency System' search engine - part of the wider transparency initiative launched by Administration and Anti-Fraud Commissioner Siim Kallas in 2005 (see EURACTIV LinksDossier) - gives "free access to details of who receives EU funds managed directly by the Commission" and the executive agencies it sets up to manage EU programmes. 

  • 24 April 2009: Czech EU Presidency to chair ministerial discussion on CAP's future in Luxembourg. 
  • 30 April 2009: Expiry of deadline for publication of CAP beneficiaries by member states. 

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