Croatian Agrobiz Misusing Some EU Organic Farming Funds

By 25 April 2020

April 25, 2020 — Croatia's farming sector turned into a circular firing squad on Saturday after a leader in the Chamber of Agriculture claimed the nation's farmers owed the EU eye-watering sums of misused funds. The Agricultural Ministry later denied all allegations, while admitting some "irregularities" existed in EU-back funding for organic farming which were quickly weeded out.

The accusations by Chamber of Agriculture Vice President Antun Vrankić first appeared in a Vecernji List article about the dilapidated state of Eastern Croatia's farming industry.

"A Brussels control found that only two percent of the incentives paid for organic farming was justified, and as much as 98 percent were false," Vrankić said, a claim which sent shockwaves through the industry. The HRK 3 billion tally had not appeared in public. "And now they are demanding that the money be returned, three years back. We're talking about a billion kunas per year."

He added farmers were being asked to disperse the cost equally as an act of solidarity.

Agriculture Minister Marija Vucković called the accusations "untested and completely inaccurate" in a lengthy statement pushing back against Vrankić's claims. 

Croatia set aside nearly EUR 130 million in funds allocated for organic farming between 2014 and 2020, 15 percent of which came from government coffers. The boom in organic products — namely nuts — left the fund depleted. The Ministry requested larger sum in the next round of funds, which are still in negotiation and uncertain because of the coronavirus outbreak.

"Unfortunately, irregularities in the use of aid are present," the ministry admitted in its statement. "However, through regular field checks and inspections, such cases are identified and sanctioned in accordance with the scale of the irregularity identified, which has significantly reduced the number of irregularities over time."

Vrakić's claims came at a time of growing uncertainty of food supplies and Croatia's self-sufficiency should the coronavirus have a prolonged stay in Europe. His point, originally, was to show the inaccuracy of the agricultural sector's own production and capacity figures.

Vrakić said food production within Croatia fell below 40 percent, though governmental bodies wouldn't provide figures to back his claim. The EU funds, he added, add to the misconceptions about Croatia's ability to feed itself.

"Incentives are being raised to desolate fields where no one produces anything," he said.