Updated | Farmers not yet paid EU funds, ‘government in breach of rules’ says Agius

PN candidate Peter Agius says farmers are still denied their EU funds four months down the line

Peter Agius (right) in one of his various meetings with members of Malta's farming community
Peter Agius (right) in one of his various meetings with members of Malta's farming community

Updated at 12.45pm with joint statement from EU funds parliamentary secretary Aaron Farrugia and agriculture parliamentary secretary Clint Camilleri

The Nationalist MEP candidate Peter Agius has accused the government of neglecting its payments of EU funds to farmers.

Agius said the government was in breach of EU laws by being already four months late in releasing EU fund money to farmers for projects approved in September last year.

“This is in direct breach and ironic contrast with government obligations laid down in the EU directive on late payments, which the government itself voted for in Brussels and which was intended to protect Maltese business from cash flow shortages by imposing a 30-day payment limit by government,” Agius, a speechwriter for EP president Antonio Tajani said.

“The same farmers who spent 18 months waiting for replies in EU funding applications are now waiting again for payments on projects done and paid from their own pocket. Farmers have spent money on EU projects back last year and are still waiting payment, four months late in some cases. Up to 100 claims are affected by this neglect and flagrant breach of the late payments directive which should oblige government to pay within 30 days.”

Agius decried the desperate situation for farmers, saying government had to lead by example as a trusted business partner and ensure liquidity in the hands of SMEs and self-employed.

“‘This is not a pro-business approach at all,” Agius said, saying payments for funds and works should be issued within the legal deadlines.

“It is very ironic that government, which should be the first to promote legality and EU rights, is the first to breach such rights to the expense of the business community. As an MEP I would split my mandate on two main pillars, the first being to mould EU legislation to fit better the needs of Maltese sectors of society, from business to those who feed us, youths and workers and the second would be to see to an effective implementation of EU laws in Malta.

“It is of no use being an EU member state if government can do away with applying and implementing EU laws at its leisure. Together with my colleagues, I will keep government under constant scrutiny to see that Maltese and Gozitans can truly enjoy their European rights,” Agius said.

Peter Agius is being misleading - Aaron Farrugia and Clint Camilleri

In a joint statement on Sunday afternoon, EU funds parliamentary secretary Aaron Farrugia and agriculture parliamentary secretary Clint Camilleri said that, overall, payments of EU funds to farmers have improved sharply over the past few years.

When compared to previous years when direct income support for various sectors used to be paid in May each year, efficiencies in the process mean that over 5,400 farmers are now getting their payment in March, they said, highlighting that this was even true this year in spite of the impact of industrial action on this process.

"In the context of project-based payments under Measure 4.1 of the EAFRD, the figures mentioned by Peter Agius of over 100 farmers experiencing delays is a far cry from reality," they said.

"Whereas some claims take longer to clarify and verify prior to payment in view of specific circumstances that are delved into on a case by case basis, less than twenty claims from the relevant measure experienced delays of this type and of these only 12 remained pending by the date of the article in question."

"It is unfair to the farming community itself to continue creating an atmosphere of unnecessary gloom by blowing figures wildly out of proportion for political gain."

They underscored that it is misleading to conflate the EU Late Payments Directive with the issuing of EU funds.

"The Directive is very clearly intended - and in the first article clearly indicates - that it seeks to regulate only payment for  ‘commercial transactions’, which it defines as meaning transactions between undertakings or between undertakings and public authorities which lead to the delivery of goods or the provision of services for remuneration," the statement said. 

"On the other hand beneficiaries of EU funds are not suppliers in a simple commercial transaction, but bound by a process spelt out in their grant agreement where a number of detailed verifications by the authorities are required in order to safeguard the funds. It is entirely incorrect to accuse the government of breaching any rights in this regard based on a wrong understanding of the applicability of directives or the applicability of timeframes," the statement added.

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