The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is “deliberately opaque, grossly undermines the European Union’s environmental goals and is warped by corruption and self-dealing”, according to a New York Times report based on a nine-month investigation into abuses of the system in Central and Eastern Europe.
The newspaper criticised the fact that the subsidies, which account for about 40 percent of the EU budget, have long benefited wealthy oligarchs as well as the small farmers they’re intended for. The system, which apportions funds according to the size of the farms invites legal forms of corruption, the Times said. As an example, the paper cites Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán who doled out large tracts of land to both family members and political allies. Meanwhile, in the Czech Republic, a company owned by Prime Minister Andrej Babiš received 42 million euros in subsidies last year alone.
The Times confirmed land deals that benefited a select group of political insiders, visited farms in several countries, and used government records to determine subsidy payments received by some of the largest of these beneficiaries. The Times investigation also built on the work done by Hungarian journalists and others who have investigated land abuses despite a media crackdown by Mr. Orban’s government.
Politicians and their oligarch networks have been able to take advantage of the CAP because “because confronting it would mean changing a program that helps hold a precarious union together,” the Times argued.
The EU Commission has rejected the allegations of inaction on Monday, saying that any suggestion of fraud concerning EU funds was taken very seriously, and all relevant allegations are forwarded to the EU anti-fraud authority (Olaf), according to a statement by Mina Andreeva, a spokeswoman for the European Commission.
As specific examples, Andreeva referred to ongoing Olaf proceedings, for example against Hungary and the Czech Republic. In the case of Czech Prime Minister Babiš, part of the payments are currently on hold. The Commission added that it is “following up” on issues of conflict of interest highlighted in the New York Times piece.
The spokeswoman added that the responsibility for the sound management of the funds lay with the Member States. “We are not here to replace national governments,” she said. “We cannot do it and we will not do the work for them,” she added.