THE European Commission is demanding that Britain repay £86m after failing to meet EU rules on the handling of payments to farmers.
The money is being clawed back because of “inadequate control procedures” in the use of the subsidies member states receive from the EU budget under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget, a commission statement said.
National authorities are responsible for managing the bulk of CAP handouts, including checking the validity of farmers’ claims for direct payments.
The Commission carries out more than 100 random audits annually to monitor national controls – with the legal power to demand funds back if “member state management and control is not good enough to guarantee that EU funds have been spent properly”.
The UK is one of 22 member states targeted for clawbacks totalling nearly £360m for “non-compliance with EU rules or inadequate control procedures on agriculture expenditure”.
But the sum being demanded from the British Government is the biggest single clawback from any member state and is more than double the £42m being recouped from Italy for a series of alleged failures to verify the authenticity of farm subsidies claims.
In the UK’s case, the repayment is for five separate cases of “weaknesses” in England and Northern Ireland in processing applications for CAP support, failure to carry out spot checks, and not adequately controlling minimum requirements on the use of fertilisers and plant protection.
A Defra spokeswoman said the department is “disappointed” by the figures, and added that “procedures have changed to address the problem”.
The spokeswoman said: “The RPA (Rural Payments Agency) has significantly improved the way it works and this year was its best-ever performance, with the RPA meeting its payment targets for the whole of December on the first banking day.”