Central EU countries 'abuse farm subsidies'
Central European governments have been systematically abusing the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to enrich family members and political allies, a new investigation claims.
The 'New York Times' survey of subsidies in nine European countries found millions of euro in agricultural subsidies had been directed to a handful of companies, often linked to national leaders.
It also alleged the CAP had even underwritten "mafia-style land grabs" in Slovakia and Bulgaria.
Beneficiaries include Andrej Babis, the billionaire prime minister of the Czech Republic, who the paper says is linked to a company that got €37m in subsidies last year.
Lukas Wagenknecht, a senator from the opposition Pirate Party, last week filed a complaint against the European Council saying it should not allow Mr Babis to take part in the bloc's budget discussions because his Agrofert conglomerate receives tens of millions in subsidies annually.
Mr Babis no longer owns the company and has denied a conflict of interests, but organisations including Transparency International claim he remains its end beneficiary.
The paper also accused Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary, of abusing the EU's subsidies to fund a system of patronage linked to land leases. It cited Mr Orban's sale of 12 state farms to close associates when he was prime minister between 1998 and 2002, which became eligible for large subsidies when Hungary joined the EU in 2004.
In 2015, five years after he returned to power, Mr Orban's government began to sell leases for hundreds of thousands of hectares at cut-price rates, giving most of them to businessmen with close connections to his party, Fidesz.
The paper implies this created a system of "modern feudalism" in which small farmers were left beholden to barons who received land eligible for subsidies based on loyalty to Mr Orban. Individuals reported to have built up considerable landholdings include Mr Orban's family and business and political allies.
The EU subsidised farmers to the tune of €59bn in 2018.
A spokesman for the Hungarian government said: "The procedures in Hungary for administering EU agricultural subsidies fully satisfy EU rules and regulations for the management of these funds. Hungary is also fully compliant in the sale of state land, which is regulated by law. Furthermore, it should be noted, that concerning a plot of land larger than 1,000 hectares, subsidies for or sale of that plot must follow strict rules." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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