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Britain’s biggest landowners, including some of the wealthiest aristocrats,
would lose hundreds of millions of pounds in farm subsidies under plans
being drawn up in Brussels.
Mariann Fischer Boel, EU farm commissioner, will revive plans next year to
put a ceiling on the subsidies any single landowner can receive, likely to
be set at about €300,000 ($388,000, £206,000) a year.

The move would hit landowners such as the Duke of Westminster and Duke of
Marlborough, whose farms were among about 2,000 across Europe which
received more than €300,000 in 2003. Collective farms in former East
Germany would also be affected.

The British government said on Tuesday it would fight to preserve big
payouts for large farms, claiming its blue-blooded gentry were prime
exponents of modern, large-scale, efficient agriculture.

British officials said the government had argued “vociferously and
rigorously” against the Commission the last time it proposed a ceiling on
payments in 2002, when it worked with Germany to thwart the plan.

Britain’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the
main objective of CAP reform was to make the EU more competitive in world
agricultural markets.

“To achieve that it needs to reward farmers who are the most efficient,” a
spokesman said. “There is no point in CAP subsidies propping up a failing

Ms Fischer Boel’s proposal – part of a wider farm package slated for 2007/8
– comes in the week that Gordon Brown, UK chancellor of the exchequer, put
CAP reform at the top of his European agenda, calling its protectionist
elements a “stain on our commitment to make globalisation work”.

Ms Fischer Boel told the Financial Times: “As part of a health check of the
CAP reform in 2007/8, we will propose putting a ceiling on individual CAP

“At the same time we should consider further shifts of resources from
direct payments to farmers to support for rural development, to create a
broader base of employment in the countryside.”, a group that monitors CAP payments, calculated that the
Commission’s original proposal for a €300,000 cap would have hit 1,880
farms in the old EU of 15 countries, worth a total of €979m. Of that
figure, 1,430 were in Germany – many of them former collective farms in
East Germany – 330 in the UK and just 30 in France.

Jack Thurston, the group’s founder, said the Commission was attracted to
the idea of a cap because it was an “easily understood, visible symbol” of
CAP reform. But it was not necessarily the best way of dealing with the
problem, because large farms might simply split up ownership to get round

According to figures released under Britain’s Freedom of Information Act,
the Duke of Westminster received £448,000 in subsidies for Grosvenor Farms,
while Blenheim Farm Partnership, owned by the Duke of Marlborough, was paid
£511,000 in 2004.