Monika Hohlmeier on a fact-finding mission of the Budgetary Control Committee to Czech Republic, 28 February 2020. [Photo: European Parliament media centre]
EPP proposes law to protect small farmers against oligarchs
By Georgi Gotev
The European People’s Party group called on Wednesday (13 May) for an EU law to prevent oligarchs and land-grabbers drawing on EU subsidies at the expense of small and medium-sized farming businesses. The practice is widespread in countries in Eastern Europe and Italy.
The New York Times published in November 2019 a massive and well-documented cross-border investigative story titled “The Money Farmers: How Oligarchs and Populists Milk the EU for Millions”.
It illustrates how EU farm subsidies, worth €65 billion per year, help underwrite a form of modern feudalism in which small farmers are beholden to politically connected land barons.
It says Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has auctioned off land to political allies and family members, with the subsidies following the land. And that a company formed by the Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš collected at least €37 million in subsidies last year.
In Bulgaria, similar practices have also been reported.
According to the EPP, the new law should cap subsidies per natural person, introduce a clear register of real company owners and prevent land theft”, said the EPP Group’s Monika Hohlmeier MEP, who chairs the European Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee.
“EU funds are systematically abused by wide-spread oligarchic or criminal structures in some member states. The conflict of interest of the Czech Prime Minister Babiš and other possible oligarchic structures are the ultimate call for a change in EU rules on how much money one single person can receive from the EU budget”, said Hohlmeier, who has authored a parliamentary report on the European Commission’s management of EU funds.
“The EU must also offer a direct reporting mechanism for small farmers, whose land, eligible for subsidies, has been stolen by criminal networks, as the European Anti-Fraud Office reported on cases in Slovakia and Italy”, she added. Her report will be voted on by Parliament today and tomorrow.
“That a few businesses receive the vast majority of Union subsidies in some countries is neither fair nor in line with the intentions of EU structural funding. The majority of EU taxpayers should benefit from EU funds rather than see their contributions being paid out to oligarchs”, continued Hohlmeier.
“This will be part of our requests in the upcoming negotiations of the long-term EU budget. The European Commission must propose budgetary rules setting a maximum amount that natural persons and big holdings owning several companies can receive from EU cohesion and agricultural funds”, she said.
According to the EPP, the anti-oligarch measures should be accompanied by a register of final beneficiaries and their real owners to create transparency on who receives EU funds. “We want a reporting standard for who the natural persons behind the final beneficiaries of EU funds are across all пember яtates. If one person owns a parent company, it must be visible that funds received by the subsidiaries end up in the same hands”, explained Hohlmeier.
Hohlmeier’s parliamentary report on the European Commission’s financial management pays special attention to land-grabbing practices too. “Farmers must know that they are protected by the EU if national authorities fail to act. The EPP Group therefore calls for a mechanism through which affected farmers can lodge complaints directly with the Commission”, concluded Hohlmeier.