In the run-up to Britain’s European Union (EU) referendum, farmers and landowners are being roped into the “EU propaganda machine” under new regulations demanding they erect billboards publicising the receipt of EU grants, or face confiscation of the money.
The new Countryside Stewardship Scheme sets out a series of “mandatory publicity requirements” with which landowners in receipt of grants to invest in measures improving the countryside must comply:
Agreement holders must display the following material to publicise receipt of EU funding, at a location readily visible to the public:
- an A3 poster – where all payments to be made over the life of the agreement exceed €10,000;
- a plaque measuring at least 300mm x 300mm – for capital items where payments exceed €50,000; or
- a billboard – for capital items where payments exceed €500,000
Those receiving grants who maintain websites for professional use have additional requirements. The website in question “must give a short description of the agreement which links the website and the financial support provided, highlighting the financial support from the EU.”
The cost of displaying the “mandatory publicity” is to be met by the farmers and landowners themselves, 2,300 of which have already applied. Failure either to comply at the outset, or to replace lost or damaged signs, “will be a breach of the agreement and subject to a penalty or recovery of payments.”
Some are concerned that the billboards will blight rural areas with popular walks as the scheme could involve as many as 11,000 landowners, reports The Daily Telegraph. In addition, Eurosceptic campaigners fear the EU will use financial muscle and funding for British institutions to influence the result of the Brexit referendum.
Daniel Hannan, the prominent eurosceptic Conservative MEP, said: “Brussels is effectively offering landowners money to advertise the EU. Then again, that’s the reason that a lot of people in Britain agree to support the EU: [non-governmental organisations], charities, big corporations and universities.”
Another MEP, Stuart Agnew, UKIP’s agricultural spokesman, said: “It is outrageous that farmers are obliged to get involved in the EU propaganda machine when this money came from the British taxpayer.”
This is not the first time the EU’s impact on agriculture has been criticised, reports The Daily Express. The Commissioner For Agriculture & Rural Development, Phil Hogan, has admitted that President Putin’s ban on EU dairy products in response to EU sanctions against Russia prompted a slump in demand and steep drop in the earnings of British farmers.