EU executive defends itself against allegations of farm subsidy abuse

Brussels - The European Commission defended itself on Monday against allegations that a notable share of EU agricultural subsidies ends up in the pockets of politicians and local strongmen, especially in central and eastern Europe.

Allegations against the EU

Agricultural payouts are the largest proportion of EU spending, totalling around 36 per cent of the bloc's 2019 budget, or 58.4 billion euros (65.1 billion dollars).

Following several months of investigation, the New York Times reported on Sunday that in countries such as Hungary and the Czech Republic, a large share of this funding is used by those in power to line their pockets or protect political interests.

But the commission - the European Union's executive - pushed back, arguing that the reporting was overblown and that it was doing everything it could to fight fraud.

"In 2018, according to the European Court of Auditors, the error rate in direct payments expenditure was below 2 per cent, regarded as insignificant," said commission spokesman Daniel Rosario.

"Zero tolerance for fraud"

"The commission has zero tolerance for fraud with EU funds," he added, while noting that the primary responsibility for ensuring money is spent correctly rests with member states.

Allegations of malpractice are investigated and ultimately handed to EU anti-fraud agency OLAF, Rosario said, noting that several investigations were under way.

A European public prosecutor's office is also being set up to tackle EU funding abuse, while the commission has proposed linking future EU budget payouts more closely to sound resource management and respect for the rule of law.

Meanwhile, Green EU lawmaker Martin Haeusling said the EU should only pay active farmers, rather than linking subsidies to land surface area.