Cotton producers rankle European Court of Auditors

BRUSSELS – The European Court of Auditors (ECA), the EU’s top auditing body, has drawn attention in its annual report to a slew of irregularities in the Greek cotton production sector, noting «serious shortcomings» – a rather elegant term considering its exact contents. The ECA says that the main characteristics of Greek cotton production is the mediocre (at best) quality of the product and an inability by authorities to ascertain whether the quantities produced and the total area declared as cultivated are real. Cotton cultivation was introduced to Greece about 20 years ago, when total European production was around 300,000 tons; it is now 1.7 million tons, most of it produced by Greece. ECA points out that with many cotton-stripping establishments not paying, as they should, higher subsidies for higher-quality cotton, producers have no incentive to make any improvements. Moreover, about one in three producers submits their production data in such a way as to make any subsequent verification impossible, while the current recording system makes possible multiple declarations of the same plot for subsidy. Even worse, the report notes that in many cases, the same plot of land is declared as cultivated for cotton as well as for wheat, and the farmer receives subsidies for both. The quantities declared are often fictitious. As cotton is not an environmentally friendly crop, it is subsidized only in certain areas. However, due to the administrative shortcomings, monitoring is difficult and it is «practically impossible to establish the origin of all the quantities delivered,» the ECA report said.