Smith Acts On EU-Led Fines Hike

11 May 2010
SNP MEP Alyn Smith has today (Tuesday) written to EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos to request a meeting to discuss the five-fold hike in the value of agricultural fines last year, published today by the Scottish government.
The fines are subject to a new regime following a critical audit of the UK compliance procedures as a whole.  The SNP government in Edinburgh has already voiced its unease over the proportionality of EU fines, but has been obliged to implement a new regime whereby infringements which would previously have been dealt with by a warning letter have now seen reductions of 3% in single farm payment.
Smith has backed calls by the NFU for proportionality in fines, and seeks a meeting with the EU Agriculture Commissioner to enforce the point.
While the Scottish government has every sympathy with the proportionality agenda, when enforcement is discussed in Brussels it is the UK Minister from DEFRA who leads in discussions.
Smith said:
"Clearly, public money needs to be accounted for and, just as clearly, the rules need to be enforced or nobody would have an incentive to comply, and remember, the EU Commission is dealing with all manner of other countries so standards do have to be strict.
"However, the figures from 2008 look markedly different to those published today, and I'm particularly concerned that the biggest jumps are in the livestock sector, and largely seem to centre around inadequate record-keeping rather than animal husbandry, which has in fact improved slightly.  The sheep EID implementation is still being rolled out, and I fear we ain't seen nothing yet when we think towards how the figures for this year might look.
"The SNP government has been at the forefront of seeking as much flexibility and proportionality in the system as possible, but it seems clear from these figures that something is going amiss.
"I have come across this mindset before from the Commission, where the auditors, often different people to those in charge of the issue itself in the Agriculture Department, classify anything wrong as "potential fraud" where anyone knows there is a big difference between incompetent record-keeping, inadvertent mistake and deliberate fraud.
"We cannot treat genuine mistakes as if they were attempts to get round the rules.  From my discussions with the Commissioner and his predecessor there is every willingness to talk over how to make the enforcement regime sensible, let's see if we can hold them to their word."