8 November 1996

Auditing call as agri-environment funds abused

REFORM of the agri-environment package is needed to counter fraud among member states, who are using payments to help boost farm incomes.

European landowners have written to EU Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler asking the commission to improve its auditing policy and to publish cost appraisals.

Tony Bailey, chairman of the European Landowners Organisa-tion (ELO) policy group, which represents 30m rural landowners, claimed Ireland, France and German states were using the agri-environment funding simply to fund extensive farming without any benefit to the countryside.

With 50% of the agri-environment budget stemming from the commission, Mr Bailey said many member nations were using the cash simply as another source of farm income.

"They are paying a flat rate per hectare for so-called extensification but it involves little or no change to farming practice."

Mr Bailey said the commission should order member states to present a two-yearly budget for every agri-environment scheme.

"We believe the agri-environment package should be a good use of taxpayers money but more inspections and better auditing is needed."

In a policy document released on the eve of the commissions major rural development conference in Cork, the ELO calls for a better targeting of funding. "Much more emphasis will need to be given to the protection, maintenance and enhancement of species populations through the schemes than at present," it adds.

And the ELO has called upon the commission to become more actively involved in the scientific appraisal of the schemes.n