Dutch farmers applied for a EU subsidy on other people's fields

The Dutch Ministry of Agriculture warns farmers and landowners against fraud involving European agricultural subsidies. It has been found that some farmers apply for EU grants on land that is not theirs. It is not yet clear whether this subsidy fraud has been reported to the Dutch Justice Department or to the European Union.

The EU agricultural subsidy fraud was exposed last weekend by Follow the Money (FTM), the investigative journalism platform. It is not yet clear whether charges will be filed. It is also not known in the case of 'old cases' whether unjustified subsidies have been reimbursed.

The Ministry therefore advises landowners to apply for subsidies for their land themselves before fraudsters falsely claim use of their land. Landowners are also advised to only register their land if it is actually used for agricultural purposes.

If all landowners register their land themselves, they will find that the land has already been registered by others, which may indicate fraud. Owners can do this on a website of the Dutch government agency RVO, which deals with the distribution of European agricultural subsidies. 

Research journalists from FTM reported that the RVO website clearly shows which geieden have not yet been applied for. Some farmers take advantage of this. In 2017, Staatsbosbeheer (which owns and manages large nature and rural areas) reported that farmers had wrongly registered thousands of hectares of land in their name. 

It turns out that this is still common. “If farmers falsely claim land for agricultural subsidies, it is fraud and therefore punishable,” says the spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture. 

However, it is impossible for the grant manager to check and enforce all grant applications for fraud. After all, there are millions of pieces of land in use in the Netherlands, some of which have been verbally agreed on usage contracts. The Ministry and the RVO will actively address landowners about this in the coming months. The organizations also want to discuss this problem with the agricultural sector. 

It is not the first time that Dutch agriculture and horticulture has been discredited due to improper use of European subsidies and non-compliance with EU rules. Previous cases in the Netherlands included fraud involving (the trade in) manure, in the registration of calves, in the fishing industry and in the egg and chicken trade.

In most cases of fraud, the main cause seems to be that the EU rules must be implemented and monitored at national level by the EU countries themselves, and that in most cases the Dutch government leaves that control to sectoral market organisations. In most cases, the relevant industry itself has a lot of control over this.