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Courtesy Private Eye April 2005

Until now the biggest robbery in British history was the 26m stolen by the IRA from the Northern Bank. But this has put Rosa Klebb (aka Margaret Beckett) and her officials at the Department for the Elimination of Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) on their mettle.

They have now determined to snatch the record with a cunning plan to steal no less than 600m from England's dairy farmers.In September 2003 he EU's farming commissioner Franz Fischler unveiled his much vaunted reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CP).

Instead of subsidizing production, farm payments would in future be based on the size of the land a farmer owns.

This took a step further the changes begun under the previous much vaunted reform of the CAP under commissioner McSharry.

Under this earlier reform, Brussels drastically cut back on subsidies given to arable farmers and others by intervention schemes, but compensated them for what they had lost under various new forms of subsidy such as the notorious IACS (for "integrated administration and control system").

One sector not included in McSharry's 1992 reform was the dairy industry, which continued to operate under a scheme based on intervention prices.

So when Fischler came up with his plans in 2003, it was decided to bring dairy farmers into line with other recipients of subsidies by ending their intervention scheme and compensating them by means of a special new arrangement known as the "dairy premium".

Under this, according to the new regulatory law promulgated by Brussels, the dairy farmers of England would be entitled to a total of 600m between 2005 and 2012, based on the amount of milk quota they held on 31 March 2005.

But when Rosa and her officials saw this 600m specifically earmarked for dairy farmers, the temptation was too much.

Unlike their counterparts elsewhere in the EU, including those in Scotland and Wales, they decided to ignore the law laid down in Brussels and simply add the 600m to the general EU farm subsidy pot.

Thus most of the money could be handed over to the barley barons and other arable farmers who have always got much more out of Brussels subsidies than anyone else.

When the dairy farmers cottoned on to this daylight robbery they were so angry that, through Charles Holt, a Lincolnshire consultant, they took legal advice.

This confirmed that Rosa's refusal was a clear breach of the law.

So on 14 January, through the Bristol firm of Burges Salmon they sent her a copy of the QC's opinion, suggesting that if she didn't change her mind, they would apply to the courts for a ruling.

Rosa still hasn't bother to acknowledge receipt of their letter.

But on 26 January Brussels issued an amendment to the original regulation which the lawyers fear may give Defra the power to do with the money whatever it likes.

In other words, having been caught breaking the law, Defra may have been retrospectively let off the hook by its friends in Brussels, making a mockery of the original purpose of the dairy premium and leaving England's dairy farmers 600m the poorer. But they are still expected to compete with their Scots, Welsh, Irish and other EU counterparts, who will receive the special dairy subsidy as planned.

Yet another nice one, Mrs. Beckett.


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