The system of agricultural subsidies was taken over by mobsters and blackmailers at our Central European neighbours. How high a price will the Polish farmer have to pay for it?

We have got used to the fact that the agricultural subsidy system in the European Union has been riddled with corruption for many years. It took a New York Times report for the king to be naked.

Over the weekend, the American daily published material showing how agricultural subsidies in several Central European countries are used to build unhealthy systems of dependence and violence.

Journalists do not avoid strong statements – Mafia, nee-feudalism, oligarchy – to describe how political and criminal groups oppress rebellious and smaller farmers. In effect, EU agricultural policy is used to finance blackmailers and arrangements that are the bane of modern democracy.

Steady inflow

The crowning evidence, in this case, is the practice of Viktor Orbán, whose unexpected turn from the liberal path to the radical right began almost twenty years ago with the decision to take a course for a rural electorate.

Viktor Orbán

When in 2002 Prime Minister Orbán lost power, he planned to rebuild his political power on agricultural capital privatised by his government. Preparing Hungary’s accession to the Union, he knew that when he gave his trusted people large areas of state-owned agricultural land, this would give his political circle a steady inflow of capital from EU subsidies in the long run.

This is how the “Dirty Dozen” scandal arose – a dozen large farms whose new owners became the ferment of a new oligarchic system in Hungary and which to this day finances the politics of the parent party.

In recent years, however, governments have become an absolute group using state institutions to cut out and take over weaker competition and possible critics.

This problem does not only concern Hungary, where things have gone furthest, but also the practices of mobsters taking over farms by force in Slovakia, financial support of tens of millions of euros for the country’s largest agribusiness belonging to the Czech prime minister and a closed arrangement concerning one hundred privileged entities in Bulgaria, which collect 75 percent of all grants.

The New York Times argues that the entire Common Agricultural Policy system is used to finance corrupt agreements in the Union and shows how representatives of the European Commission are trying to hide all inconvenient facts between the lines.

This puts the new European Commission in a difficult position, and in particular its member Janusz Wojciechowski. The European Union Commissioner-designate for Agriculture will have a tough nut to crack.

Janusz Wojciechowski

Once the new Commission is approved, it will be harder to counteract cuts in agricultural subsidies.

The current proposals of the EU budget already assume a 10 per cent reduction in direct payments and even a quarter reduction of subsidies for investments in the agricultural sector.

Flexible solidarity

Parliamentary representatives from across the Union met last week in Helsinki and called for more solidarity – including the equalisation of the level of aid in the new member states. Instead, representatives of the European Commission would have to form its own internal agricultural development program tailored to suit new financial and legal realities prepared at EU level.

So, ironically, it will be rather a “flexible solidarity” formula – coined by the Visegrad Group countries during the refugee crisis, when they demanded autonomy in deciding how to participate in the community-wide efforts to settle asylum seekers.

In practice, it may turn out that the Commission will wash its hands and allow the governments of member states to legalise the practices described in the Times.

On the other hand, publicity for this the matter with a particular focus on our region puts us all in a difficult negotiating position. It defuses arguments not only about maintaining the budget amount for agriculture throughout the EU but also weakens the political initiative for the final equalisation of payments. Hence, Poland can also suffer.

This is another reason to cut all public connections with the politics of Viktor Orbán. It is not the first time that relations with the Hungarian satrap come with real costs for Poland, in the absence of any benefits.

In any case, the whole of Central Europe would be better off if the Visegrad Group membership rights for Budapest were suspended, thus cut off from these rotten authoritarian tendencies, as once was the case in Slovakia under the rule of Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar.


This article is part of the #DemocraCE project. It was originally published on Polityka.

Editor-in-chief of Visegrad Insight and president of board at the Res Publica Foundation. His expertise includes European politics and political culture. Previously, he has been the editor-in-chief of Eurozine - a Vienna based magazine with a European network of cultural journals, and a Polish quarterly Res Publica Nowa. Wojciech also co-authored a book 'Understanding Central Europe’, Routledge 2017. Twitter: @wprzybylski

Eastern European Futures

In 2009, the European Union and six of its Eastern neighbours launched the Eastern Partnership (EaP) with the stated aim of building a common area of shared democracy, prosperity, stability and increased cooperation. A decade on, however, progress has been mixed.

Visegrad Insight is published by the Res Publica Foundation. This special edition has been prepared in cooperation with the German Marshall Fund of the United States and supported by the International Visegrad Fund.

Download the report in PDF