Too sensitive over EU fines

2 March 2001

Too sensitive over EU fines

By Isabel Davies

A SENIOR EU Commission official has told MPs that MAFF worries too much about incurring fines over its implementation of European rules.

Malcolm Slade, head of sector for IACS in the Agriculture directorate in Brussels, told the agriculture select committee on Tuesday (Feb 27) that the UK was particularly sensitive about financial penalties, which are also know as "disallowance".

He said MAFF had been wary ever since European auditors picked up anomalies with the Sheep Annual Premium scheme and imposed a fine of about £100m.

"As a result of that I feel there has been a knee-jerk reaction by the UK authorities who have a perception of me and my colleagues stamping around Europe imposing 5% penalties," said Mr Slade. "The over-reaction has probably gone a little too far."

Answering questions from the cross-party group of MPs, Mr Slade said UK farmers were not alone when they claimed their national authority interpreted the rules more strictly than other countries. "I would not say UK authorities are the strictest, but they are certainly not the most lenient."

Afterwards he told farmers weekly that if there was a league table based on how strictly countries implemented IACS rules the UK would fail to make the top five. The UK was "middle-ranking", he said.

Mr Slade admitted to the committee that the forms used in the UK were among the most detailed and complicated in Europe, but he complimented MAFF on the quality of its scheme literature, saying it was of a very high standard and extremely thorough.

Questioned about the possibility of simplifying some of the legislation, Mr Slade said the comm-ission was drafting proposals to allow the bovine premium schemes to move to a paperless system.

The system would rely on each member state having a database that accurately reflected what stock was on each farm, he said.

But if this could be achieved then the EU would be able to halve the number of inspections required by each national authority. MAFF is currently required to visit 10% of farmers claiming under each scheme.

Member states could also just press a button to make their payments. "If you know a farmers situation you know how much premium he should receive without him having to claim," he said. &#42

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