DEFRA is to be fined a total of €54m (£36m) for making late payments to farmers under the old IACS scheme.

The UK is one of 14 member states being penalised a total of E285m (£194m) by the EU Commission in its latest “clearance of accounts” procedure.

The biggest fine is being levied on Spain, which is being charged €61m (£41m) for late payments of aid for nuts. France is being fined €8.7m (£5.9m) for weak controls under the over-30-months slaughter scheme.

“We have been working very hard to ensure the best possible control over farm spending,” said EU agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel. “The clearance procedure is a vital process in ensuring that taxpayers’ money is used properly.”

An EU Commission spokesman was quick to point out that the fine on the UK was nothing to do with the late delivery of the 2005 single farm payment.

“These fines pre-date the single farm payment,” he said. “They relate to failure to meet payment deadlines in 2003 and 2004, plus a very small amount for overshooting financial ceilings in 2004.”

NFU chief legal adviser Julie Robinson said it would still be some time before the fine on the UK for late SFP payments is known, though it is likely to be substantially bigger than this latest penalty.

“Only when the RPA has finished paying out all the 2005 SFPs will anyone be able to do a calculation as to what late payment fines will be due,” she said.

For other SFP stories see FWi’s special report on the Single Payment Scheme