1 March 2000
Brussels claws back misspent millions

By Philip Clarke

ITALY and France have been singled out as the worst offenders as Brussels continues to claw back farm aid which it says has been misspent.

In total, some Euro275 million (168m) is being recovered as the EU Commission clamps down on lax controls in the use of taxpayers money.

And over two-thirds of this is attributed to just two member states.

France has to pay Euro99m (60m) for its casual approach to export refunds, with Italy charged Euro32m (20m) for the same reason.

Italy also has to pay back Euro39m (24m) for poor control of cereal intervention and another Euro8.3m (5m) for various late payments.

The UK is far from squeaky-clean, however, having the fifth worst record after Germany and Portugal.

Of the Euro21m (13m) misspent by the UK, Euro11.8m (7m) relates to livestock premia, Euro5.2m (3m) to export refunds and Euro2.4m (1.5m) to incorrect calculation of the arable area overshoot.

Farm commissioner Franz Fischler said it was member states job to manage farm spending.

He said the commission would clamp down hard on those who shirked that responsibility.

A further Euro500m (305m) is still being investigated.

Meanwhile, Brussels is taking the Netherlands to the European Court of Justice for its failure to limit water nitrate levels.

In particular, it says controls on livestock manure are insufficient and there is no clear limit on the fertilisation of different crops.