Part of the European Court of Auditors 2007 report identified golf as a problem area, leading to headlines suggesting that millions of euros intended to support farmers are being claimed by golf clubs.
by Steve Pope of Golf Europa
Last year, for the thirteenth consecutive year, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) refused to approve the previous year’s European Union (EU) expenditure. Part of the ECA 2007 report identified golf as a problem area; hence press headlines such as “EU farm aid squandered on golf clubs” (Accountancy Age, 14/11/2007) and comments that “a still larger sum is being ‘irregularly’ allocated – to take one example, millions of euros intended to support farmers are being claimed by golf clubs” (Daniel Hannan MEP, Daily Telegraph, 14/11/2007).
The purpose of this article is to clarify what the ECA report really means for golf. A key message for anyone in golf seeking EU funding is not to let this ECA report put you off. Golf organisations remain just as entitled as any other to seek EU funding.
What does the ECA 2007 report actually say on golf? In its 291 pages reporting on all aspects of the EU’s €106 billion expenditure in 2006, there are three references to golf in the section concerning grants from the Common Agriculture Policy’s Single Payment System (SPS).
The first reference (broadly repeated in the second) states that “the SPS has led to a substantial increase in the number of hectares in respect of which direct aid is paid and beneficiaries. The Court has also noted among them railway companies (England), horse riding/breeding clubs (Germany and Sweden) and golf/leisure clubs and city councils (Denmark and England)”
According to the farmsubsidy.org website, you will see records of 57 EU SPS grants paid to golf clubs going back to 2000 in six countries (Denmark, Estonia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK), adding up to a total of €507,000. The website does not have complete coverage of all 27 Member States but it is the best available Europe-wide summary. Suggestions that “millions of euros to support farmers are being claimed by golf clubs” may be slightly exaggerated.
Were the SPS grants to the golf clubs “squandered”? The third comment on golf in the ECA report, from the European Commission, states that, “Golf courses as such are not eligible … the area used to play golf or for other leisure activities is excluded … only areas used for agricultural activity are eligible.”
In a subsequent press conference, the EU Agriculture Commissioner, Mariann Fischer-Boel, confirmed that, “Where you have a company that owns a golf course and next to that they may have some arable or agricultural land, and of course if they are running this land as a farmer, then they are entitled to get their direct payment. But we don’t support golf courses, let’s be very clear … If by accident (SPS cash) is paid somewhere … (to golf courses) I can guarantee that there will be an audit on these areas, because this is not a possibility within the (CAP) system.”
Agricultural land, adjacent to a golf course, may, therefore, be eligible for SPS grants. It is not automatically the case that EU farm aid obtained by a golf club is “squandered”.
Golf has a long record in using EU grants correctly and, like many sports, contributes to a number of EU policy objectives, e.g. tourism, regional development, environmental stewardship, rural enterprise and promotion of public health.
Various EU funds have been used to support golf in the past and may continue to do so in the future. Many €millions have been used from the European Regional Development Fund to support golf tourism developments in countries such as Ireland and Portugal in the 1980s and ‘90s. New ERDF priority regions in Eastern Europe are now doing the same.
Golf does sometimes have an image problem and it can be an easy hit for journalists and politicians seeking headlines. However, whether you are an individual golf operator or a Europe-wide golf association, the ECA report 2007 should not discourage you from exploring the possibilities of EU funding. The key, of course, is to ensure that your project application is competitive and meets the detailed criteria demanded by the relevant EU and national funding authorities.
In the future, we may have a new EU fund dedicated solely to sports. If the new EU Reform Treaty is ratified this year by all 27 Member States, then a Treaty article on sport will come into effect for the first time from 2009 onwards; with it will come a probable new EU Sports Fund.
Whether or not the Reform Treaty is ratified and the new EU Sports Fund comes into existence, EU grants will continue to offer funding possibilities for golf sector organisations. The best way to avoid press headlines on “squandered” EU grants is to ensure the tightest possible fit between your project application and the funding criteria.
Steve Pope is a golf course architect and advisor to organisations in the golf sector on EU policies and funding – see his relaunched website at www.golfeuropa.co.uk and contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org