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Bringing Transparency to Europe’s Farm Subsidies

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Fields of Gold: Lifting the Veil on Europe’s Farm Subsidies from Farmsubsidy.org on Vimeo.

The film above tells the story of Farmsubsidy.org. It explains how journalists, researchers and computer programmers worked together to make information on the European Union’s farm subsidies more open and transparent.

Until recently,  data on the allocation of €55 billion a year through the Common Agricultural Policy was a closely-guarded secret. However, through Freedom of Information requests, and the determination of  a wide variety of people right across Europe, taxpayers now have easy access to detailed information on how this money is spent.

This detailed analysis, is not provided through a European Union (EU) website however, but rather through Farmsubsidy.org. This  project is coordinated by EU Transparency, a non-profit organization in the UK and Kaas og Mulvad, a research and analysis company in Denmark. Their aim is to obtain detailed data relating to payments and recipients of farm subsidies in all EU member states, and make this easily accessible to European citizens.

The Importance of Open Data

Jonathan Gray notes the film’s central tenet regarding the importance of making data open. Journalist Brigitte Alfter argues that the public have a right to know where public funds are spent, while policy analyst David Osimo explains how making data open allows it to be mashed-up and visualised by third-parties. In order to do this, however, the EU member states need to ensure their datasets conform to the principles of Open Government data. While some countries are more open with their data formats, these principles have not been universally applied. Indeed, FarmSubsidy.org contains a Transparency Index which grades countries on the openness of their recipient data.

The film also hears about  Siim Kallas’s broader drive towards transparency in European institutions, and hears about how FarmSubsidy paves the way for more open access to official European datasets. While some datasets are already available, a data.gov style European portal would be a useful addition to ensure data from all EU countries is made easily accessible for comparative analysis.

Future

The film briefly highlights other initiatives such as:

  • FishSubsidy.org – detailing the subsidies paid under the European Union’s fisheries policy
  • FollowTheMoney.eu – making the EU budget more transparent i.e. how it gets decided, where the money comes from and how it is spent

These EU initiatives are similar to US projects such as SubsidyScope.org. This project aims to raise public awareness about the role of US Government subsidies in the economy. It’s current project details information on the financial institutions receiving benefits from various federal programs as a result of the Financial Bailout. It provides an easily accessible mechanism to allow citizens understand how and where taxpayer dollars are being spent. Their next project will cover the Transportation industry and detail Government subsidies in this area. Indeed, their vision is to build a comprehensive federal subsidy database by economic sector.

Such an initiative would be extremely valuable at an EU level. For example, data relating to transportation subsidies at an EU level, as exemplified in the recent Airbus/Boeing case, is not easily accessible in a manner in which citizens can easily understand. Ideally, Siim Kallas’s transparency initiative will expand on initiatives such as FarmSubsidy.org, and bring greater openness to EU spending i.e. through expanding the information and details provided through the Financial Transparency System and other recipient databases.

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