BRUSSELS, June 1 (Reuters) - The European Commission proposed on Friday cutting direct subsidies to farmers while increasing the share of funds going to smaller farms, attracting criticism from France and other countries that benefit most from EU agriculture aid.
Under plans for the EU’s budget for 2021-2027, farmers would receive around 232 billion euros ($271 billion) in direct support, a drop of more than 30 billion euros from the current seven-year budget.
The Commission proposed giving more money to small farms and recommended member states set aside at least 2 percent of their direct agriculture funds from the EU for young farmers, but acknowledged that this could encourage larger farms to simply split up.
“Nobody stops farmers from splitting the farms,” the EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan told a news conference.
The agriculture ministers of France, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Finland and Greece immediately issued a joint statement saying they opposed the proposed cuts - which must be approved by all 27 EU members - and called for maintaining current spending levels.
French farmers would still receive the highest share of EU direct payments at more than 44 billion euros in the 2021-2027 period, but down from the 47.7 billion euros they received between 2014 and 2020.
Direct payments to farmers would still form the bulk of EU agriculture spending, or one fifth of all EU expenditure in the planned 1.1-trillion-euro long-term budget.
Spanish farmers, the second top beneficiaries of EU money, would see their funding drop to 29.7 billion euros, from 31.7 billions. Direct payments to Italian farmers would decrease to 22.1 billion euros from 24 billion euros.
As part of a wider policy to divert some EU money to new sectors, like research and security, most EU countries would see a drop in direct aid to their farmers, except the Baltic countries and other smaller eastern EU states who would see their funding increase. ($1 = 0.8557 euros) (Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Susan Fenton)