ECONOMY

Farm payment ultimatum

BRUSSELS – The European Commission gave Romania one month yesterday to overhaul its agricultural payments system or face cuts to hundreds of millions of euros in annual farm subsidies from the bloc. «Romania still has time to rectify the situation… We have a duty to ensure that the farm budget is properly spent and that irregularities don’t occur,» European Union Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said in a statement. The EU executive also said Bulgaria, which joined the EU this year along with Romania, would not face farm aid cuts because it had set up an operational payment system. «Bulgaria assured us remaining weaknesses will be rectified before the first payments are made,» the Commission said. Under the two Black Sea countries’ accession treaty, the EU may withhold a quarter of its direct subsidies to farmers, due to start flowing on December 1 and grow from -202 million next year to -492 million in 2013 for Romania. Some EU diplomats and lawmakers believe the Balkan duo should have waited longer before joining the EU to have more time to fight corruption and ensure that the bloc’s funds would not be siphoned off by ineligible people or institutions. The Commission said that to avoid sanctions Romania should fix its computerized animal database within a month and gather more information on exactly how much land individual farmers owned as its identification system did not work. Romania pledged this week to correct flaws in the payment system by the end of the month to ward off EU punishment. «We have the biggest number of registered plots in Europe. Operations to check the registered farming acreage are delayed because of a lack of equipment… public acquisitions are so slow so we are in a huge delay,» Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu told a news conference. Under the EU system, farm subsidies are first doled out from the national budget and later reimbursed by the EU, so the government could in theory start paying farm aid on December 1. However, the Commission warned Bucharest not to make any larger-scale payments before it upgrades the system.