The European Commission will claim back €317.3 million ($403.4 million) in agricultural payments that were improperly spent in five European countries, with the bulk to be collected from Italy. „This is a special case resulting from the work of a task force to look into cases of money that was reported to have not properly been spent up to 1999,” Michael Mann, a commission spokesman, told journalists in Brussels yesterday. „We are charging this money to the member states' budgets because they failed to take the necessary action to recover this money.”
Under the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy, national authorities are responsible for distributing farm payments, checking expenditure and recovering improperly paid amounts. While the commission usually bases its recovery decisions on audits of governments' control systems, the task force's probe focused on recovery procedures for payments to individual farmers and traders.
The commission will recover about €310.9 million from Italy, €2.5 million from Spain, €2 million from the UK, €1.3 million from France and €686,000 from Germany. Another €176.3 million will be written off because national governments' inability to recover that money wasn't due to negligence, the commission said. „The commission is serious about not tolerating irregular spending of the EU taxpayer's money,” Siim Kallas, the EU's antifraud chief, said in a statement. „We have sound systems in place to detect such cases, and when one is discovered it will be followed up, even if this may take some time.” (Bloomberg)