France has been landed with a bill for 1.1 billion euro after the European Commission demanded a refund for agricultural subsidies it should not have claimed.
The country is by far the largest recipient of EU funding via the Common Agricultural Policy and the refund demanded is the highest amount so far levied against a country as part of the review into past subsidy payments, reuters report.
The French government had initially faced a claim of around 3.5 billion euro from Brussels before negotiating a final sum, the country’s agriculture minister said.
Stephane Le Foll stated to reporters, ”There was no fraud. There may have been mistakes and our role is to rectify them,”
The European Commission’s claim against France mainly relates to inaccurate declarations of farming land between 2008 and 2012 is by far the largest portion of the 1.4 billion euros the EU’s governing body wants to take back from member states, according to figures published in the official EU journal.
The money will not be paid in one lump, but reimbursed over three years and the government would be footing the bill, not the farmers, Mme Le Foll added.
She defended the submissions for the subsidies, saying the Commission had overstated the inaccuracies in the declaration of arable land. The 1.1 billion euros worked out at about 2 percent of total farm aid received by France over the period, according to a farm ministry spokesman.
After the scandal in the 1990s with ‘butter mountains’ and ‘wine lakes’ where EU farmers were paid for what they produced, there has been an attempt to reform the system.
But critics say that the system is fundamentally flawed with political interference adding to the cost of consumers’ food bills rather than allowing market forces and the advantages different countries have to determine supply.
And UKIP MEP and farmer Stuart Agnew said that British farmers had known “for years” that EU subsidies had been enriching French farmers in “suspicious ways”.
“For years, British farmers have been aware that French farmers have been getting away with it. I’m delight to see that at last the billions in British taxpayers’ money which is poured into supporting inefficient Continental farmers is being treated with more respect.”
“We must wonder, of course, if the French government is actually going to repay anything like a billion euros. The original figure which the European Commission said France owed was an outrageous €3.5bn. Political manoeuvring by French bureaucrats in Brussels convinced the Commission to lower their demand for repayments down to the €1.1bn announced today.”
“That is €2.4bn in EU overpayments which French farmers are being allowed to keep. You can bet hundreds of millions of that came straight from UK taxpayers and into French farmers’ pockets,” said Agnew.