3 March 2000

EU claws back misspent aid

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 k275m (£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 is having to cough up k99m (£60m) for its casual approach to export refunds, with Italy charged k32m (£20m) for the same reason.

Italy is also having to pay back k39m (£24m) for poor control of cereal intervention and another k8.3m (£5m) for various late payments.

The UK is far from squeaky clean, however, having the fifth worst record after Germany and Portugal. Of the k21m (£13m) misspent, k11.8m (£7m) relates to livestock premiums, k5.2m (£3m) to export refunds and k2.4m (£1.5m) to incorrect calculation of the arable area overshoot.

Farm commissioner, Franz Fischler, said it was member states job to manage farm spending, and the commission would clamp down hard on those who shirked that responsibility. A further k500m (£305m) is still being investigated.

* 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.