Commission disappointed at farm subsidy ruling
The European Commission is assessing how badly its attempts to increase transparency about European Union farm payments have been damaged by an adverse ruling from Europe’s highest court.
In a judgment published yesterday (9 November), the European Court of Justice ruled that the Commission was wrong to oblige national authorities to publish the names of individual farmers who have benefited from EU farm subsidies, worth about €56 billion a year.
The case was brought by two German recipients of farm subsidies, Volker und Markus Schechke GbR, an agricultural firm, and Hartmut Eifert, who had asked regional authorities not to publish data about them.
The court ruled that the EU’s 2008 farm-payment transparency law and parts of a 2005 law were disproportionate and declared them void. The judges concluded that lawmakers had failed to strike the correct balance between an individual’s right to privacy and taxpayers’ right to be kept informed of public spending.
Dacian Cioloş, the European commissioner for agriculture, said in a statement today: “Our lawyers are examining precisely what the ruling means – it seems to relate only to farmers who are ‘natural persons’, rather than those who have formed a company – and will analyse our possible responses.”
Transparency campaigners are also digesting the ruling. The three founders of the website farmsubsidy.org said in a blog post that the court had “left the door open to an improved transparency regime”.
A spokesperson at the pan-European farmers’ organisation, Copa-Cogeca, said it was very happy with the ruling, adding: “We recognise there is a need for transparency, but individual farmers’ privacy needs to be respected.”
The farmsubsidy.org campaigners questioned whether naming farm subsidy recipients was “a significant invasion” of personal privacy. “There is no relationship between the eligibility for a farm subsidy and the recipient’s personal or private life,” they said.
Cioloş said in his statement: “We are disappointed with the court ruling, but remain committed to transparency in order to show how taxpayers’ money is being spent.”