The EU’s Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Phil Hogan has confirmed Ireland will have to pay a €63 million fine for incorrectly claiming EU farmer payments, mostly on ineligible land,
However, the fine has been reduced from €181m originally proposed by the commission. It relates to payments made to Irish farmers over five years, from 2008 to 2012.
Ireland sought arbitration of the fine after the Department of Agriculture assessed 900,000 land parcels across Ireland to ascertain what the appropriate level of reimbursement to the commission should be, and calculated that it should be approximately €50 million.
However, Mr Hogan confirmed at the Ploughing Championships yesterday that the fine has now been agreed at €63 million, and can be paid back over three years. He noted that a fine imposed on France earlier this year for similar breaches of CAP rules totalled €1.1 billion.
Commenting in May on the proposed fine, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said some of it will be paid back by farmers and some may well be paid by the department over a period of time.
He said: “The commission looks at this from an audit perspective and asks what public money was spent that should not have been spent because it did not qualify, how much should it get back, and what fines should be imposed to go with that.”
Arbitration negotiations on the fine took place over the first six months of 2015.
The €1.1 billion fine for France, announced last January, was by far the biggest bill ever against a country stemming from EU reviews of past subsidy.
In arbitration, it was reduced 66% from a €3.5bn bill proposed by the EU.
French agriculture minister Stéphane Le Foll said the French government will reimburse the amount over three years, and French farmers won’t be asked to pay.
Meanwhile, most farmers believe that Ireland should stay in the EU.
Despite a sometimes indifferent relationship with it, there is still massive support for the EU and Ireland’s role in it from the farming community.
An overwhelming 96% of farmers believe Ireland should stay in the EU, with 79% of respondents strongly in favour of it, according to the Irish Examiner/ICMSA opinion poll.
The prevailing levels of positivity towards the EU are reflected across all age groups and sectors of the farming economy. The lowest level of support was among farmers not engaged in tillage, dairy or livestock, but even here support was still at 89%. Backing for the EU was broadly similar across those working on farms and those with an off-farm income.
The survey results were taken before the recent protest in Brussels during which fires were lit and EU buildings were sprayed with milk in sometimes ugly scenes.
The EU has been consistently called on to step in and resolve financial issues faced by farmers, particularly those in the dairy sector, caused by the plummeting milk prices.
ICMSA President John Comer said: “At a time when questions about the nature and role of the EU are becoming more numerous and fundamental than ever, farmers ‘get’ the concept of the union and realise that the market opportunities and the strength through unity are bulwarks of both Ireland’s and Europe’s farming sectors.
“CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] and the Basic Payment are aspects of that support for the EU – but they are not the reason. Farmers, more than other domestic sectors, realise that it is only supra-national institutions that can resist the abuses possible to the biggest corporations now. Individual member states no longer have the ‘clout’ to discipline corporations that have reached a degree of power and revenue that may be multiples of that residing in individual states.
“The only thing standing between farmers and even more blatant abuse of primary food producers than that already occurring is an institution like the EU. That is why farmers instinctively support the EU – they trust and hope that one day something like the level of regulation that’s exercised on them might be applied to the retail corporations who effectively control the EU’s food trade.”
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