New York Times reveals fraud with billions of EU agricultural subsidies

Itinerant greengrocer on a country road of Cyprus on March 30, 2016

The European Commission has a 'zero tolerance' towards fraud with European subsidies, but it is the EU countries that are primarily responsible for the proper management of such EU funds. With that statement, the EU responds to an article in The New York Times about misuse of agricultural subsidies in Central and Eastern European EU countries.

With this statement, the European Commission seems to shift the control of fraud with EU funds to individual EU countries, but the question is whether MEPs will settle for that. Moreover, the question is whether that is correct. It seems strongly that European institutions that provide European subsidies must themselves check whether their money ends up well.

The New York Times describes how politicians in countries such as Hungary and the Czech Republic abuse part of the agricultural subsidies for their own gain or for large landowners. The New York Times investigated the distribution of funds from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in Central and Eastern European countries. Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Bulgaria, among others, were examined.

The survey covers 9 countries in total. Last year the European Union spent nearly € 60 billion in subsidies for European farmers. Of this, around one billion euros is intended as direct income support. The agricultural subsidies represent around one third of all EU expenditure.

Research shows that a small group of politically driven entrepreneurs in those countries have a lot of land, which receives enormous amounts of EU subsidy. The Hungarian president Viktor Orban would be guilty of dividing state land (among his relatives and friends). The newspaper writes about Mafia practices in Slovakia and Bulgaria when it comes to & #8216; land theft & #8217; is going.

The prime minister of the Czech Republic is also mentioned as an example. The Czech Andrei Babis can be blamed a lot. His farm received almost 38 million euros in grants in 2018.

For example, & #8217; n 80% of the total EU budget goes to barely 20% of the farmers. Political ambitions, such as those of Prime Minister Babis, are also financed with this income. In Bulgaria it is not that much different. This annual flow of millions creates an agricultural mafia in the countryside. In many cases, the government, gentlemen farmers and buyers operate under one roof. In Bulgaria, there is now a lawsuit against this. In Slovakia, the Italian Mafia decided to take control of agriculture itself. The journalist Jan Kuciak, who investigated this case, was murdered last year with his girlfriend.

Next month, decisions will have to be made in Brussels and Strasbourg on the EU multi-year budget, and with it on European agricultural subsidies. There have been calls for some time now to curb this flow of money, and only to pay subsidies as income support for small farmers.

Moreover, the agricultural money must be subordinated to a European climate policy. The investigation by the New York Times into fraud with subsidies will no doubt be on the table in those European debates.