France Ordered to Claw Back $460M in Farm Aid

     (CN) – France hasn’t done enough to recover illegal state aid given to farmers to mitigate the effects of supply exceeding demand over a decade ago, Europe’s highest court ruled Thursday.
     Until 2002, France gave aid to fruit and vegetable producers to prevent or mitigate the negative effects of supply exceeding demand. The nation gave the aid to producer organizations, which then passed the money on to the farmers.
     After receiving a complaint, the European Commission found the aid essentially gave the farmers a higher price for their goods than buyers paid – illegal state aid – and ordered France to recover nearly $460 million from the farmers.
     France challenged the commission’s decision, which the General Court of the European Union dismissed in 2012. But the nation never appealed the lower court’s dismissal – and still hasn’t recovered all the money, leading the commission to lodge a complaint with the European Court of Justice.
     In a ruling issued Thursday, the European high court found that France did not take the necessary measures to recover the illegal aid it gave to farmers.
     For one, the Luxembourg-based court found that France missed the commission’s four-month deadline – instead waiting over two years to begin the recovery procedure. And that recovery continued at the time of the proceedings before the high court, six years after the commission’s order came down, the court said.
     Additionally, France failed to show that it was impossible to recover the illegal state aid and did not give specific data on how and why it decided some of the farmers qualified to escape the clawback, the court said.
     In response to France’s argument that some of the producer organizations no longer existed due to mergers and bankruptcies, the court said French authorities did not show they couldn’t identify the individual members of the organizations or extrapolate what their share of the illegal aid should be.
     Troubled or bankrupt organizations – or those that have merged with other producers – can’t escape the recovery of the illegal aid, the court concluded in an opinion not made available in English.
     The high court’s finding requires France to take back the rest of the money “without delay,” although no specific timeline has been set.

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