The European Commission has given Italy two months to respond to its demand to pay €1.42bn in unpaid super levy fines accumulated over the 14 years from 1995 to 2009.
Agri-media commentators across the EU member states have been highly critical of the demand. Notably, critics have described the commission’s insistence that Italian authorities need to recoup the due money from “offending” non-paying dairy farmers as totally unrealistic, given the relative poverty of the farmers in question.
One commentary issued by UK-based specialist dairy quota and entitlement broker Ian Potter Associates states: “Italy now has two months to respond and I guess it is likely to be an Italian transcript of Foxtrot Oscar.”
The commission said that its demand was intended to ensure that Italian taxpayers do not end up footing the bill, according to a news report on Euractiv.com, the EU policy debate news service.
“We are applying pressure to make sure that this money is returned to the Italian state, because they are the ones losing out,” commission agriculture spokesman Roger Waite said at a recent news briefing in Brussels.
“All other milk producers in Europe have followed the rules, so we cannot make an exception for some producers in Italy. If necessary, we will take the case to the European courts,” said Mr Waite.
The commission gave the Italian authorities two months to respond. The case centres on fines imposed on Italian dairies between 1995 and 2009 for exceeding strict annual EU production quotas, fixed under the Common Agricultural Policy.
The quota system was introduced in 1984 to limit chronic overproduction in Europe, which had resulted in the accumulation of unused “milk-lakes”.
Producers that exceed their quotas are required to pay excess levies, currently fixed at about €28 per 100 kilos.
EU milk production quotas are to be abolished in 2015.
Many small Italian dairy producers have paid back what they owe under a national scheme to collect the fines in instalments. Some 800 producers have made legal challenges against the fines, EU officials said, adding they want the Italian authorities to use the courts to force the companies to pay up.
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