Examination of witness (Questions 180
TUESDAY 27 FEBRUARY 2001
180. They were discussing it from last autumn.
(Mr Slade) I think MAFF is going ahead to try to develop
a control regime along those lines with our blessing. I consider
it to be already possible. The problem at the moment is that legislation
requires, nevertheless, a 10 per cent on-farm inspection per scheme,
which means that we are not so flexible. For the male bovine scheme
you cannot do 8 per cent make 16 per cent for the female bovine
scheme, let us say. You must do the minimum 10 per cent each.
That is what the law says and that is what I am there to control.
With the changes that we are hoping to make in the course of this
year in the legislation, it will be possible to vary the level
of inspection according to the scheme and according to the perceived
risks per scheme, which will vary according to the scheme.
181. Do you judge it to be a reasonable possibility
that it will come into fruition this year?
(Mr Slade) Yes. You would have to speak to MAFF about
it, but I understand that MAFF's plans are quite advanced. They
know our feelings on it which are favourable. We have stressed
the minimum needs. We would like to see this go ahead. MAFF would
be under an obligation to inform us when they decide on their
final plans, to notify us and to get our okay, if you like. That
would be a formality but, nevertheless, that would arrive on my
desk. I would consult colleagues and it would go around the house
to different services within Agriculture D-G and possibly others.
Then we would say to MAFF, "Please go ahead". It will
be done quickly and we would be very happy for MAFF to do that.
182. When the Commission inspects member states,
who makes up the team? From where do they come?
(Mr Slade) On the IACS side we are a unit of 30 people.
If you take out the four secretaries and myself as head of unit,
as I do not make missions, there are 25 controllers sub-divided
into the different schemes. We have six colleagues in the arable
crop sector; four on the animal premiums; four on olive oil, which
is in my unit because it will become integrated into IACS; and
on rural development we have two teams of five on accompanying
measures. In total we approach our complement of 25 inspectors.
There are all nationalities. I go to the UK, to Greece. We go
across the spectrum. It is not done on the basis of nationalities
or where people come from. We are all Commission officials. There
are no national experts. Certainly other services in the Commission
tend to veer towards our system of control which is to say that
we do not let a British person go to the UK, a Greek go to Greece
or a Swede go to Sweden on his own. We go everywhere.
183. Out of interest, how many non-Greeks in
your service speak Greek?
(Mr Slade) We have two Greeks in my unit and they
are both very good at English and one is good at French. None
of us speaks Greek.
184. That raises a problem.
(Mr Slade) No.
185. Why not? You are examining a Greek form
and you are examining the practices of the Greek government and,
therefore, you are dependent on other Greeks to tell you whether
it is working or not. One may make the same observation about
Portugal which has a minority language. Many people speak English,
French and German, but how can you check a Greek form, filled
in by a Greek farmer, and by Greek civil servants on a Greek island?
(Mr Slade) That is fair comment. In relation to form
reading I can manage in most languages, but the two problem languages
are Finnish and Greek. No one speaks Finnish except the Finns.
There are a few specialist interpreters at the Commission. When
I go to Greece I have two interpreters with me, one on each shoulder.
One translates into Greek and one translates from Greek into English.
That is the first step. That is for my on-the-spot control and
the exchanges which are part of the work that I carry out. When
it comes to an examination of the documentation, of course on
the spot I am reliant upon the interpreters. The interpreters
are not interested colleagues; they simply tell me what the form
says. When I return, or even before trips, we will have received
information. At the Commission there are vast translation and
interpreter services, an army of peoplefreelance and official
translatorswho translate all sorts of documentation. Often
a problem is caused by the time that it takes to receive a translationsometimes
six weeks to two months. Those are practical problems and we overcome
them to the best of our abilities. It would be wrong for me to
say that I can assess the Greek system, such as it is, as well
as I can assess the UK or Irish systems. Clearly, that is true.
186. Turning to penalties, all of us have constituency
cases of farmers who have been penalised by their regional office
for some transgression and inevitably we end up writing to the
Minister. Usually we receive a letter from the Minister saying,
"Awfully sorry, if we do not disqualify this chap we risk
disallowance". You have already mentioned that that is a
heinous sin. I rather take the view that the more one is disallowed
the more one will try to help the people. My reaction is often
to say that if that had been the French minister he would say
that the farmer did not intend that and he would allow it. What
flexibility is there in the discretion that member states have?
What latitude is there for taking into account genuine errors?
The French told us that because their administration at a departmental
level is close to the chamber of agriculture and there is a process
of dialogue, that enables corrections to be made if they conclude
that the chap was not wicked. In Britain people are hit because
they have made a mistake. What is the latitude? How do you monitor
it? Is there a rule book in relation to it?
(Mr Slade) When you say that in Britain people are
penalised because they make a mistake, in my travels in previous
years, and up to two or three years ago, the situation regarding
application of sanctions was unsatisfactory everywhere, including
in the UK. I must underline that. I also said that since then
I consider that the statistics show that there has been some significant
improvement in that. Part of my remit and my job is to try to
ensure that any sanctions, for irregularities or anomalies, serious
errors, deliberate or otherwise, are subject to fair and proportionate
sanctions. That is our job. I am told by my lawyers in Brussels
that it would be illegal to do otherwise. The European Court of
Justice would reject cases if the sanctions applied were not proportionate
or fair as they are supposed to be. How do we arrive at that?
It is not easy to say when a mistake is genuine and when it is
not. In the past couple of years we have built into the regulation
the idea of recidivism. That is to say that where someone offends
twice in a similar way he is subject to a penalty the second time,
but not the first. We try to make the sanctions suitable to the
particular risk and the particular offence. Obviously, a premium
system that is based, for example, on the identification of animals
requires a sanction if the animal does not have an ear tag and
so cannot be identified. We would be negligent if we did not envisage
that. However, at the same time, at the other end of the spectrum,
if someone forgets to sign his form, he puts it in on the last
day of the claim-lodging period, sends it back outside the 25-day
period and loses his whole premium because of that, that would
be a rather harsh measure to take. It is not easy. No errors are
187. You cannot really monitor the culture differences,
can you? You have just said that you have been to Greece and you
said that they take the form along to the local administration
office where they would fill it in for him. In Britain, a farmer
may take his form along to the regional service centre, as many
still do because they like the security of handing it in, and
they are specifically told that the staff will monitor that it
is filled in, that all the boxes have a tick or a number in them,
but they do not check whether they are correctly filled in. It
is a mechanistic process, whereas in Greece there is a qualitative
process. That is a difference in culture, I believe. That is not
really controllable, is it? There has to be an element of faith,
trust and tolerance in all that.
(Mr Slade) I agree. The regulation lays down minimum
control and sanction requirements. It is part of my job to enforce
those minimum requirements. Member states can, according to their
own wishes, apply other procedures and other sanctions. The veterinary
legislation, for example, envisages national administrative measures
to be taken against people in some member states on the continent
of Europe and there can be a 100 franc fine if the identity card
is not handed in on time. Apparently in the UK the legal system
does not allow such an administrative fine to be applied by the
188. Is the data or the application of sanctions
by a member state in the public domain?
(Mr Slade) It will be. I wonder what you will do with
this bundle of information.
189. If it is in the Commission it is in the
(Mr Slade) When you receive this packet, we would
appreciate you referring any difficulties that you may have to
us in due course for clarification. They can be indicative. I
do not think that is in the public domain. Here, for example,
we have control and inspection statistics, sanctions, numbers
of claims, numbers of hectares involved and numbers of animals.
That comes in a more detailed form from the member states and
we collate it and summarise it, as we have done here. We distribute
that information to all the national authorities of all member
states. I do not believe that we have laid down any rules as to
what they do with that when they receive it. I do not know whether
it is in the public domain. We have not given it out to anyone
190. Perhaps you could check on that and let
us know the answer?
(Mr Slade) I should say that the information has been
given to the European Parliament in recent years. Annually we
send the statistics that you will receive to the European Parliament.
Whether that counts as being in the public domain I do not know.
191. The Irish told us that an EU-level working
group will look at penalties, with a first meeting scheduled for
next month. Are there proposals to simplify the penalties system?
Do they include suggestions to address the apparent disproportionality
of the current scale of penalties, whereby a genuine error can
entail a significant loss?
(Mr Slade) It will all be done by my service, with
the IACS hat on, on 8 and 9 March next week. Yes, as I explained,
the proposals for simplification that we shall present to the
delegates in a preliminary way will also involve clarification
of sanctions and, if possible, streamlining of sanctions systems.
As I said earlier, that is not such an easy thing to do. We are
keen on it, if it makes it work and if it makes the system work
more effectively. We have a basic interest and it is one that
I am familiar with. I go on to farms and I watch the national
inspectors carry out their job. When sanctions are swingeing,
the inspectors close their eyes. That is the reality. They close
their eyes because they know that one relatively small offence
can produce a dire result for a farmer, particularly in the current
climate. I have no interest in making sanctions so swingeing that
they will never be applied. That gives me work in the clearance
of accounts context, which is not progressive. I have an interest
in making sanctions fair and proportionate and for the inspectors
to understand that they are fair and should be applied to improve
the system overall for everyone.
192. In 1995 the NFU initiated court action
on behalf of a number of British farmers who had suffered severe
penalties for IACS set-aside infringements in the previous two
years. The European Court ruled that the less severe penaltythe
1995 penaltyshould be applied retrospectively, relying
upon a provision in Council regulation. Then there was the IACS
review under Don Curryno relationand he concluded
that the European Commission has interpreted this judgment to
mean that any reduction in the severity of existing IACS penalties
would have to be applied retrospectively to 1993. Was he right?
How does that affect the attitude of the Commission?
(Mr Slade) I was making reference to that case earlier
when I said that the European Court of Justice would not allow
disproportionate or unfair penalties to be applied, no matter
in what domain. It is not for me to judge the consequences of
the judgment. That is for our legal service and for the legal
authorities in MAFF. I do not have an opinion. If you want a clearer
answer, perhaps if you put that question in writing, I am sure
that those in the Agriculture D-G legal service and/or in the
Commission legal service would certainly be willing to give an
193. We could give you a copy of that question
to take with you. Is there anything that you want to say that
you have not said already, or that you have said, but you wish
you had not, or do you have a brief point that you would like
to make in conclusion? I want you to feel that you have put over
to us what you want to say.
(Mr Slade) I thank you for the fair hearing that you
have given me. It has been more fair than I anticipated. I would
like to think that the national authorities who work with my service
and the delegates who know me personally would consider that I
and my service have shown an even-handed approach and that we
have worked towards a fairer, more equal application of the IACS
in both the controls and the sanctions. As my voice has been disappearing
since yesterday morning, I shall leave it at that. I thank you
for inviting me over.
Chairman: Thank you very much for coming. At
a later stage we shall pursue one or two points with you, but
this has been an extremely helpful session.