BRUSSELS – Legislators of the European Union criticized corruption and proprietary trading in the $ 65 billion block of agricultural subsidies program each year on Tuesday, but were keen disagreed on how or whether to reform a system that has become a third line of European politics.
At a time when the anti-European mood was fluctuating, the debate about one of the world's largest subsidy programs revealed a gap that goes much deeper than a simple dispute over agricultural policy. It raised the question of how political corruption can be tackled without affecting the independence of the 28 countries in the bloc – and further encouraging its right-wing populist critics.
The debate took place on Tuesday as part of a hearing to monitor the European Parliament's budget. Partially driven by a New York Times inquiry into the agricultural subsidy program known as the Common Agricultural Policy or CAP Im November revealed the Times how subsidies help draw oligarchs, enrich politicians, and promote land grabbing and mafia tactics.
"The Latest New York Times Report on Abuse of C.A.P. Subsidies are harmful and undermine confidence in the government, ”said Mick Wallace, a European legislator from Ireland.
The Times tracked land sales and subsidies that benefited friends and family members of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and at least $ 79 million in government grants to Czech Prime Minister Andrei Babis' businesses.
“It is quite ironic to see populists like Andrej Babis and Viktor Orban scream and cry as the European Union money is spent while the same two people E.U. Money to enrich her friends, ”said Lara Wolters, a Dutch legislator and member of the Budget Control Committee.
At the hearing, Ms. Wolters asked Parliament to rethink the basic condition of the subsidy program – farmers' pay is based on how much land they control.
Such a change would limit the ability of leaders to use arable land as a political tool. And it could reduce the incentive for large, politically powerful companies to buy more land. But it would also be a seismic overhaul of a fund that many national politicians and many farmers regard as untouchable.
European lawmakers are currently debating the renewal of the bloc's next seven-year agricultural legislation. Heads of state and government want more discretion in the use of money and farmers want less administrative requirements. In Brussels there is little appetite for a comprehensive reform that places greater control on governments – even those who have manipulated or abused the system.
The latest proposal, which will be discussed in the coming months, gives national leaders such as Mr. Babis and Mr. Orban even more power to determine agricultural policies and monitor spending, despite being accused of corruption. Internal auditors have criticized this proposal, and several legislators raised objections on Tuesday.
"We can't even adequately police corruption," said Sheila Ritchie of Scotland. "What in the world makes us believe that compliance with self-regulation will work?"
Johannes Hahn, the European budget manager, defended the bloc's approach to corruption and abuse, noting that European auditors have examined and examined Mr. Babis.
"We reacted very quickly," he said.
Babis' investigations also show that accountability is still limited. Years ago, European investigators recommended that Mr Babis be charged with fraud, but they lacked jurisdiction or the power to bring charges. The case suffered in the Czech Republic. And the test is expected to take many months. During this time, Mr. Babis can still vote on the European budget.
The European Union is not a government, but an economic and political bloc. While there is a system of common laws, the Union builds on the concept of national sovereignty.
These tensions flooded on Tuesday when some legislators decisively rejected proposals that the European Union had to monitor corruption again.
“Some colleagues want the E.U. to take on even more responsibility and monitor the Member States even more, ”said Croatian legislator Tomislav Sokol during the hearing in Strasbourg, France. “However, Member States should take care of their own interests. Solutions should not be imposed by the European Union. “
The clearest differences, however, were between the legislators who called for a comprehensive revision of the funding program and those who advocated that it should remain intact.
"The story here isn't really about a few bad apples that rob money," said Clare Daly, an Irish lawmaker. "The problem is actually the system itself."
Such feelings triggered a complaint from Clara Aguilera from Spain, who is also a member of the Agriculture Committee.
"There are people who are trying to make these problems a general condemnation of the C.A.P.," she said. "I refuse to join this blanket sentence."