Andrej Babis Agrofert

Matt Atlas

EU Farm Subsidies Benefit Billionaires Over Farmers

The European Union farm subsidy system is broken and corrupt. The system now benefits billionaires instead of the farmers it’s meant to support. Prime Minister Andrej Babis’s companies received $49 million in subsidies last year.

The New York Times examines the EU farm subsidy system, excerpt below.

“Babis Amendment”

For critics of the subsidy system, one item was of special interest. It was known as the “Babis Amendment,” after Andrej Babis, the billionaire agriculturalist and prime minister of the Czech Republic. It was designed to prohibit politicians who hand out European Union farm subsidies from receiving the funds themselves.

Mr. Babis is Exhibit A of how the system benefits the wealthy and connected. His government shapes agricultural subsidy policies in the Czech Republic. It also gave $42 million in European subsidies last year to his domestic companies, according to a New York Times analysis. His holdings in Germany, Hungary and Slovakia received another $7 million.

“The vote is open,” the agricultural committee chairman declared.

Eleven seconds passed.

Then the chairman simply said: “Rejected.”

Half of the 46 committee members had ties to the farm industry

Nobody read the proposal aloud. There was no debate. And nobody mentioned one relevant fact: that half of the 46 committee members had ties to the farm industry. Several lawmakers received thousands of dollars in subsidies. The Babis Amendment could have jeopardized their money, too.

40% of EU budget goes to farm subsidies

The European Union’s farm program is one of the largest subsidy schemes in the world. It represents 40 percent of the European budget — money that is meant to support farmers and sustain rural communities.

After the end of the Cold War, Mr. Babis was among the former communists who bought up what remained of the old order. He built his empire through a relentless acquisition of farms, fertilizer companies, tractor suppliers and silos. In an industry dominated by big players, his company, Agrofert, is the biggest.

“I made it from nothing,” Mr. Babis said in an interview in New York.

But his companies also have benefited from policies approved by governments that he has led or served in, prompting years of investigations over conflicts of interest, even as Agrofert continued to collect subsidies.

When Mr. Babis was finance minister and deputy prime minister from 2014 to 2017, small farmers complained that they lost influence on a board that monitors and helps guide national policies for handing out farm subsidies.

“So you can imagine what kind of a decision process takes place there,” said Jan Stefl, a 59-year-old Czech farmer. “It always favors the big farmers.”

Read the rest of the article at NYT