Every year EU pays almost €60 billion to farmers and the farming industry under the Common Agricultural Policy, making it the biggest single spending programme under the EU. In 2005, journalists from the UK, Sweden, Netherlands, and Denmark teamed up to get ahold of the data country by country. Finland, Poland, Portugal, regions of Spain, Slovenia, and other countries soon followed. In some countries like Germany in 2007, the group had to go to court to get the data, which resulted in coverage from Stern and Stern online while raising the discussion of transparency.
The meaningful demand from Farm Subsidy for each farm subsidy payment to be made public became a powerful vehicle for measuring transparency in practise. Farm Subsidy publishes a transparency index annually, benchmarking all member states on the quality of their data releases. The data from Farm Subsidy as well as the analysis and outreach of the core team have resulted in substantial improvements in EU spending journalism since 2006. A selection of the news stories generated from farm subsidy data is available.
- The uptake from journalists using the farm subsidy data as a continuous source for reporting was limited, most likely due due to the size of the dataset as well as the poor quality of the data often submitted by governments.
- Limited access to data since 2010.
Ruling to shut down access
In 2010, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decided that individual farmers should have the right to privacy when receiving funds from the CAP. The ECJ decision has de facto enabled governments to release data of highly varying quality, granularity and consistency.
Source: Farm Subsidy. Along with the annual retrieval of farm subsidy payments, Farm Subsidy produced a comprehensive index on farm subsidy spending transparency.
In early 2013, Farm Subsidy approached OpenSpending suggesting the two projects collaborate around the hosting of the site as well as the annual data collection. In May, OpenSpending officially began hosting the site at farmsubsidy.openspending.org.
At the annual DataHarvest 2013, the opportunities around farm subsidy investigations were covered at several sessions:
- How the experiences gained in retriving farm subsidy data can be used for accessing other spending data
- How journalism on farm subsidy spending can expand its focus as well as find more local user cases
Next: Farm subsidies in Mexico