BRUSSELS SPROUTS: Kafka's EU fruit and veg fiasco

Franz Kafka could not have thought up this latest EU bureaucratic nightmare, but Britain isn't innocent either

Brussels sprouts, or spouts?
Alexandra Swann
On 9 November 2012 14:03

Enter stage left, Franz Kafka.

As is well known, the European Institutions have an entrenched aversion towards transparency. For this reason, if one speaks fluent Eurocrat the most interesting, and often the more appalling revelations and grievous, costly errors can be found by trawling the seemingly dull acres of studies, policies and consultations found within the Institution's websites.

I do it, so you don't have to.

This week, I stumbled across a small gem hidden in a study into agricultural subsidies, marked as health policy. When you read between the lines, the study has inadvertently revealed tensions at the very heart of Whitehall.

As a bit of background, in 2009 the Commission set up the EU School Fruit Scheme, an EU-wide scheme to provide fruit and vegetables to school children, with an annual budget of 90 million euros. Given that the UK contributes roughly 14 percent to the EU budget, we are covering around 12.6 million euros towards this budget.

This sounds like a fairly benevolent scheme by EU standards; few would argue against using part of the EU’s mammoth and ever increasing budget to promote healthy children. But if you trawl through the full document it becomes apparent that this is little more than a 90 million Euro subsidy designed to prop up the continent’s rural economy.

Just like German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s claims this week that Britain must stay in the EU for the sake of our children, this scheme is but a smokescreen; far from having a clear, single aim to help the kiddies, it is a direct agricultural subsidy, as is made clear by one of its two core purposes: “Market Stabilisation of the EU fruit & veg market”, page 36, figure 12... if you must know.

Once again, the taxes of EU citizens are being used to prop up French farmers. I couldn’t get hold of the supplier contracts but I would be very surprised if Brussels is procuring much of this fruit and veg from our own shores.

Anyway, the plot then thickens. Given that we in Britain are contributing over 12 million euros to this scheme it would not be too far fetched to assume that we will be taking part.

However, we have our own version: the British School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme (SFVS), which provides a free piece of fruit or veg to those on free school meals -- nearly 2 million children, at the cost of around 37 million pounds per year. This started in 2000, long before the EU’s initiative, and a Commission document clearly states that the SFVS is funded 100 percent by national funds and does not receive any EU aid.

The Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development itself notes that this is a high cost for the Department of Health (DoH) to bear and given the current pressure on government departments to find savings, surely it would have made sense for the DoH to volunteer the UK to take part in the EU scheme to which we are already contributing?

But this rather pointed annex to the study which explains why Britain, despite the funding we are, by merit of being a member of the EU, contributing to pay for fruit and veg to be sent to schools across the continent, will not be taking part in the EU’s scheme.

It transpires that in order to shut down the SVFS in favour of jumping on board with Europe would not only be very difficult with a strong administrative burden, but the Department of Health, which currently runs the scheme, refused to take part due to departmental antipathy.

Essentially, the UK program is run by the DoH alone and in order to get further tax subsidy via the EU, relieving itself of the £37 million bill, it would have to work with both the Department for Education, and DEFRA (Department for Food and Rural Affairs) and this it has refused rather pointedly to do.

Due to EU funding, changing this operational plan into a cooperative venture with two other departments (e.g. agricultural and education) is seen very critically by the Department of Health.

Well, that’s DEFRA told. Shame, but no suprise, that we taxpayers are footing the bill...

Alexandra Swann works in the European Parliament and tweets @AlexandraLSwann

blog comments powered by Disqus