Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 13

Memorandum submitted by the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany (H14)

1.  RESPONSIBILITIES

  Under Germany's federal structure, the 16 federal states (the States or Lander) are responsible for administering EU payments under the Common Agricultural Policy. They are therefore also responsible for the administration of IACS. Owing to differences is agricultural structure and historically-evolved administrative structures, procedure across individual States is not entirely uniform.

  The Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Forestry acts as the co-ordinating body. Its role is to promote maximum uniformity in procedure across the States and to advise on solutions to issues affecting all the States. This is done through regular meetings at which interpretation of specific issues is discussed. If no solution can be found at this level, a reference is made to the European Commission. There are also several working groups of representatives of the Federal Government and the States which deal with specific tasks such as designing application forms and inspection reports.

2.  LEGAL BASIS

  IACS is based on the rules set out in Council Regulation 3508/92 and Commission Regulation 3887/92 (as amended). These are complemented in Germany by two federal regulations, one covering the arable sector and the other the livestock sector; these were amended accordingly after the adoption of Agenda 2000. The States have adopted their own further provisions, eg determining which authority is responsible for administrative and on-the-spot checks, in addition to regulations and rules of procedure for the implementation of controls.

3.  COMPOSITION OF IACS

  IACS comprises five main elements on which administration of the entire payment procedure is based. Information technology plays a large part in this process.

3.1  Identification of eligible area

  Arable area payments relate to fields planted with certain crops or set aside. For this purpose the individual field (or agricultural parcel), with size and use, must be entered in the "area record", which is an essential part of the area aid application. To verify that the field as described in the application actually exists an identification system is required. This must be clear in order to avoid double payments to one or several farmers for the same piece of land.

  In Germany the existing system of land registers is used for this purpose. All land parcels are registered in the official land cadaster and can be identified by an individual number indicating the parcel's location. This system is based on the ownership of a piece of land. The cadastral parcel is the smallest unit of area in Germany, and forms the basis for the identification of eligible areas.

  The field is defined as a piece of land used by the same farmer for the same purpose. In most cases, however, the field is not identical with the cadastral parcel. The fields are therefore identified by reference to the cadastral parcels of which they are part or which they comprise. The farmer must indicate his fields as defined above, and this will be subject to on-the-spot checks, eg by independent measurement.

  Five States have, however, accepted for application purposes a larger unit, the "production block" or "ilot" (as used in France); this is an area comprising several fields which are used by the same farmer but do not have to be used for the same purpose.

  In the next five years there will be substantial changes in identification of eligible areas, as all Member States must from 1 January 2005 use Geographical Identification Systems for the identification of areas.

3.2  Identification of eligible livestock

  Here too the aim is to avoid unjustified payments. Livestock identification procedures under IACS are based on the relevant EC veterinary provisions.

  The identification system for cattle was changed several times during the 1990s. In 1995 a new nation-wide identification system was put in place to ensure that every ear-tag is only issued once. In the same year the States and the Association of German Livestock Breeders concluded an agreement on the issuing of ear-tags and on a nation-wide cattle identification system on this basis. Since then an annual ear-tag check has been in place which has revealed only a very small number of double applications (well under one per cent).

  The EU Member States were required to set up by 31 December 1999 a computerised database containing all the information necessary to identify a bovine and its history. In Germany, identification and registration of cattle are the responsibility of the States, which have set up a central database at the Bavarian Ministry of Agriculture in Munich.

  The main aim of this database is to combat livestock diseases and enable cattle identification. All operations where bovines are held are obliged to report births, deaths and movements of bovines to the database. This includes slaughter-houses and cattle dealers. Incoming data is automatically checked against the stored data.

  As from application year 2000, this central database is also used for administration of payments for cattle. This removes some burden from the farmer, who no longer has to submit a herd register and slaughter certificates with each scheme application. The authorities can therefore now retrieve most information directly from the database.

  With respect to the ewe premium, under EU law no individual identification of the animals is required. The applicant needs only to keep the number of sheep stated in his application for a prescribed period. Only when they leave the flock do the ewes have to be identified in such a way that they can be traced back to the originating farm. The ear-tag for sheep comprises the abbreviation "DE" for Germany, the vehicle registration symbol for the administrative district in which the farm is located and a farm identification number issued by the competent authorities.

3.3  Application forms

  Aid applications are based on the relevant EC Regulations, ie the two IACS Regulations and the various support scheme provisions. In Germany, the incorporation of these requirements in application forms is the task of the above-mentioned working groups of representatives of the Federal Government and the States, which prepare model application forms containing all the essential elements of the application for the various schemes. The States then modify these model application forms according to their own requirements, ie generally adding further elements, as some of the States conduct their own schemes (eg agro-environment schemes) through the IACS application.

  In order to avoid submission of conflicting information in different applications by the same individual and thus to minimise time spent on corrections and penalties, many States have introduced a "base form" in which information and declarations applying to all schemes can be submitted just once. Thus information relating only to the scheme in question needs to be provided in the scheme application forms.

  A major relief for applications is the procedure whereby the area record data held by the authority from the previous year provide the basis for all arable and area-related livestock scheme applications. The farmer thus needs only to enter changes in land use and to the fields themselves. Thus the time-consuming provision of land-register documentation is no longer necessary where there are no changes vis-a"-vis the previous year.

  Together with the application forms, the farmer receives guidance leaflets with explanatory comments on how to fill in the forms.

3.4  Databases

  Because each State is individually responsible for IACS matters, there is no federal database for the administration of payments. Each State administers payments independently using its own databases in accordance with the legal framework. This includes processing of applications, administrative and on-the-spot checks, integration with other CAP support schemes, checks against previous-year data, notices, payments and reclaims.

3.5  Integrated Control System

  The integrated control system comprises the electronically-supported administrative control of all applications, together with complementary on-farm inspections (covering at least five per cent of arable area applications and 10 per cent of livestock applications).

  All entries in the application are checked against the data in the Electronic Land Register. In order to preclude double payments, cross-checks are made between applications, first at State and then at federal level. The same procedure applies to cattle using the national database.

  The choice of farms for on-the-spot checks is based on risk analysis. Risk analysis guidelines for the various sectors—arable area, livestock and slaughterhouses—have been prepared by a Federal Government-States working group and submitted to the Commission for examination. The essential elements of risk analysis are a random selection and a risk selection.

  On-the-spot checks of arable area relate primarily to the size, use (cropping/set-aside) and type of crop as indicated in the application. A further check is made to ensure areas have not been prematurely harvested. In 10 (of a total of 16) States some of these inspections are carried out by remote sensing, with evaluation by contractors of aerial and satellite photographs using dedicated software. In this way labour-intensive visits to the farms can be reduced to cases of doubt.

  The focus of inspection in relation to livestock payments is correct ear-tagging, correct keeping of the herd/flock register, correct reporting to the central database, submission of a fully completed cattle passport and compliance with set periods for keeping animals.

  On-farm inspections are carried out by teams which usually comprise at least two persons otherwise not directly involved in the application. Inspectors receive full training. In some States, specialist inspection teams are being set up covering the entire State.

  Inspections are generally without notice or at short notice (maximum 48 hours). Prior notice is necessary mainly in areas with a high proportion of part-time farmers.

  Inspectors produce reports based on nation-wide standards laid down by a Federal Government-States working group.

4.  GUIDANCE FOR FARMERS

  Farmers who have submitted applications in a previous year and are therefore already registered with the authorities normally automatically receive application forms for the new application year, including the accompanying guidance leaflets.

  The Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Forestry also publishes brochures explaining the CAP support schemes.

  Information on the schemes is also provided by the agricultural press. Regional farmers' magazines reminders of deadlines, changes in the schemes' operations and special arrangements for particular States. Some States also hold information events.

5.  USE OF MODERN TECHNOLOGY

  The States are anxious to achieve optimal use of staff by applying modern technology for administration and inspections relating to the CAP support schemes.

  As already mentioned, administration of application data is largely electronically supported. Notebooks are sometimes used for on-the-spot checks. Area measurements in inspections are mainly GPS-based.

  The internet has so far functioned mainly as an information medium—eg Federal Ministry brochures can be downloaded onto the internet. Cattle farmers, however, are already able to report livestock data to the central database via the internet.

  Most States also participate in the AGRIDOC electronic documentation system, which files, among other things, IACS documents which are then accessible via the internet for internal administrative purposes.

  Although electronic completion and submission of IACS forms is an aim, this is not currently possible, mainly because of unresolved legal issues and the need for software. Currently farmers can only submit their area documentation on disk—a facility mainly used by larger farms.

  The proportion of farmers with access to the internet in Germany is currently estimated at only 20 per cent, so that complete replacement of written applications by electronic means is not envisaged for the foreseeable future.

6.  APPEALS PROCEDURE

  After the applications have been processed and any inspections carried out, the competent authority sends out aid notices. If these are not in accordance with the farmer's application, an explanation must be provided (including in the case of penalties). The farmer can, if he does not agree with the notice, appeal to the authority that issues it—this is a necessary step in the event of a further appeal to the administrative tribunal.

  If the issuing authority declines to amend the notice, it must submit the case to the next authority up for decision. The latter must also undertake a full examination before its decision. If it comes to the same conclusion as the issuing authority, the farmer is then only entitled to appeal to the administrative tribunal.

7.  SPECIFIC PROBLEMS WITH IACS FROM A GERMAN VIEWPOINT

  Implementation of IACS entails a whole number of problems which relate in particular to the interpretation of legal provisions and the treatment of individual cases.

  Farmers in Germany complain about the difficulty of understanding the rules relating to allowances and the inspection procedure. The constant requirement to update farm data is a substantial burden. As far as the application procedure is concerned, installation of the central database for cattle has significantly helped the situation; however, this is to some extent offset by the need to correct errors that arose when the database was first set up.

  The States are burdened with high staff and other costs in relation to IACS administration. The relevant authorities are having to handle a greater workload at a time when the civil service is cutting jobs, and this cannot fully be compensated by greater use of technology.

  Most of the problems result from the complex nature of the CAP support schemes and the IACS rules and procedures. The CAP schemes contain some checking requirements which are in particular no longer necessary. Further, there is a not insignificant degree of uncertainty in the way inspectors interpret regulations. Thus in Germany this year there was an intensive discussion for several weeks on the extent to which it was necessary to check that areas stated as forage areas for a farm's cattle were actually being used for this purpose.

  With respect to disallowance, the increasing tendency in Germany is to refer disputed cases to the Commission. However, the common experience is that it takes too long for a satisfactory reply to be received from the Commission for this to be used to resolve cases. In many cases several submissions are necessary before the Commission has a real understanding of the question at issue.

  To achieve improvement in this context, a drastic simplification of the schemes would be necessary. However, the goal of optimal justice in resolving individual cases might then have to be compromised.

  Difficulty in administering the schemes is also due to the fact that the Commission—not least under pressure from the European Parliament and the European Court of Auditors—is applying ever-stricter criteria to the distribution of funds from the EC budget, thereby disregarding the cost-benefit relationship of additional checking procedures.

  Several States report that the agri-environment schemes are causing particular administrative difficulties. A further new field of conflict seems likely to arise in relation to overseeing of the Codes of Good Agricultural Practice. The extra checks the Commission considers necessary in this area are to some extend in conflict with the desire of the States to reduce administrative expense through the use of technology such as remote sensing.

3 November 2000


 
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