Germany Map - CC / Flickr
Germany Map - CC / Flickr

What’s up with Germany? What do they have to hide?

I attended a press conference organised by farmsubsidy.org yesterday entitled “Who wants to be a farm subsidy millionaire?” where Jack Thurston, Brigitte Alfter and others presented the latest data on CAP payments using the latest statistics on agriculture spending due to released at the end of April by the Member States… only no data for Germany has been released. This is explained by the German agriculture minister Ilse Aigner in a press release here. The supposed reason? That the European Commission’s requirement to publish the data is against German laws on privacy. But Germany actually agreed to the openness regulation in the first place and, let us not forget, this is public money from EU funds – surely it’s a matter of principle that citizens can trace where the money has gone? I wonder whether Aigner’s background in the CSU representing an area of rural Bavaria has anything to do with it? Stern has more general background on agriculture subsidies here.

This builds on a patchy commitment to transparency among German MEPs in the European Parliament. According to a post subsequently removed from Europa-Transparent (Google cache here), and also covered by the Frankfurter Allgemeine here, Silvana Koch-Mehrin has been grumbling about parlorama.eu, a website that publishes statistics from the European Parliament about attendance records of MEPs. As I write the Parlorama site is closed – again – because someone I presume is threatening them. Koch-Mehrin complains that the site does not take into account the time she took away from the EP on maternity leave, but even with that in her attendance was not exemplary – so citizens should know. And Koch-Mehrin should rather have run a campaign on maternity leave for MEPs (i.e. temporary replacement MEPs from election lists – currently not possible) – Åsa Westlund and Eluned Morgan would be allies in that.

I also seem to recall that it was German MEPs – of all parties – that were most against the publication of the European Parliament’s internal report on MEPs’ expenses, the report that Chris Davies caused controversy by leaking. Then there is the infamous RTL film about MEPs milking the signing in system, with German Green MEP Hiltrud Breyer running into a wall in order to escape the cameras.

With support for the EU not at the levels it once was in Germany, and with brewing discontent with the national political process as a result of the grand coalition, Germany has to be a bit careful. It’s not as easy as it once was to just assume that people will think the best of their politicians.

5 Comments

  1. Pingback: Open Knowledge Foundation Blog » Blog Archive » European Open Data Summit

  2. Jon,

    you seem to want changes made to the CAP – so do I; in my case get rid of it, let individual countries run their own subsidy schemes. Who would care then, if the German system, or the Greek or the Italian, wasn’t transparent? I’m not letting dislike of a policy cloud my view, I’m simply pointing out that if you set up a gargantuan system spanning numerous countries, it’s less likely to be run efficiently or transparently than if each country runs its own system, which would have the added advantage of allowing democratic oversight.

    Personally I think farm subsidies are a good idea, and maintaining a strong agricultural base is important to the general welfare of a nation.

  3. Here’s the solution: let Germany manage its own farm subsidies. Then the rest of Europe can forget about it, and German people can take responsibility for holding their administration to account.

    The problem is wholly created by the pan-European CAP. If you’re in a restaurant with a whole bunch of people and you know the bill will be split equally, then you might as well order lobster. In other words, the incentive to be prudent and or honest has been removed by your supranational system.

  4. No, whichever way you look at it… Frankly, as I’ve argued before, I don’t think farmers should be subsidised more than anyone else. But:

    (1) The CAP exists, like it or not, and while it exists the spending should be transparent
    (2) Even if there were German national subsidies then those should be transparent too

    You shouldn’t let the fact that you dislike the policy cloud your view about some simple everyday changes to it.

  5. The Commission gave Germany two weeks to answer, so we shold know the excuses pretty soon.

    To the extent that voters are given a choice between MEP candidates (and parties) their record and intentions on transparency is an important point, because the European Parliament watches the other institutions and it has (as you correctly poointed out) a lousy record with regard to its own members.

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