ECJ: Exclusion from aid not a criminal penalty
By Anca Gurzu | Tuesday 05 June 2012
Cutting a farmer’s access to agricultural aid under European Union law due to a false declaration about land cannot be classified as a criminal penalty, the EU Court of Justice ruled, on 5 June.
The ruling (C-489/10) is connected to the case of Polish national Lukasz Marcin Bonda, who in 2005 applied in Poland for an agricultural subsidy for his farm land, also known as single area payment. In that application he had overstated the area used for agriculture by giving a figure of 212.78 hectares instead of 113.49 hectares. In a 2006 decision, citing EU rules on agricultural aid schemes, the Polish District Office for Agricultural Restructuring refused Bonda the aid payment for 2005 and entitled him only to partial agricultural funding for the following three years. Additionally, the District Court in Goleniow, Poland, also convicted Bonda of subsidy fraud in 2009, according to the Polish Criminal Code. He was sentenced to eight months in prison, suspended for two years, and a fine. The farmer appealed this judgement.
The Polish Supreme Court asked the ECJ to rule whether the measures imposed on Bonda under the Common Agricultural Policy - which deprived him from full aid allocation - are considered criminal penalties. If so, no other criminal proceedings can be brought against the farmer, since the Polish Criminal Code prohibits a person being tried twice for the same offence.
The ECJ found that measures that exclude a farmer from obtaining agricultural aid are not regarded as criminal in nature by EU law. In fact, the court concluded that such measures are administrative, since their purpose is essentially to protect the management of EU funds by temporarily excluding a recipient who has not followed the rules.
Since the penalties are not punitive, there is no risk of a double trial for the same offence, the ECJ ruled.