AGEA – Coldiretti, European Commission rejects conflict of interest

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The conflict of interest of Gabriele Papa Pagliardini – director general of AGEA and founding partner of AgriRevi SpA, in the Coldiretti galaxy – is definitively rejected by the European Commission. (1)

On 23.2.21, the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Janusz Wojciechowski, on behalf of the Brussels executive, thus provided a partial answer to questions from four Italian MEPs. (2)

But that is not all. #CleanSpades.

AGEA – Coldiretti, the two questions from the European Parliament.

MEPs Piernicola Pedicini, Ignazio Corrao and Rosa D’Amato – M5S, Greens/ALE Group, European Free Alliance – had submitted a question on 22.12.20 on the pernicious relations between AGEA headed by Gabriele Papa Pagliardini and Coldiretti. MEP Nicola Procaccini (League, ECR Group, European Conservatives and Reformists), on 23.12.20, in turn, filed a second question on the subject. (2)

Two questions had been put to the European Commission:

1) conflicts of interest. Is it possible that the highest executive of the paying agency AGEA (Agenzia Generale per le Erogazioni in Agricoltura) is at the same time a founding partner of an auditing firm, AgriRevi SpA, (3) which belongs to the private economic galaxy of Coldiretti?

2) Distortion of competition. Can the European Commission accept that the aforementioned paying agency distorts competition, in an agreement with the Agricultural Assistance Centers (CAAs), by excluding some 3,000 freelancers from access to the SIAN (National Agricultural Information Service)? (2)

1) AGEA – Coldiretti, the first response of the European Commission.

Commissioner Wojciechowski answered for now only the first of the two questions above. (1) Specifying the responsibility of member states to ensure that paying agencies meet specific criteria, including ‘The obligation to take appropriate measures to avoid a conflict of interest when persons in a position of responsibility or in a sensitive position take on other functions outside the paying agency‘ (4).

It is also the responsibility of member states to ‘establish the system of paying agencies and a coordinating body, and to ensure their effective and proper functioning.’ (5) And ‘similar safeguards should in any case be in place to avoid conflicts of interest under Article 61 of the EU Financial Regulation.’ (6)

Conflicts of interest, measures announced in Brussels

The first response to Parliament’s questions goes on to announce that ‘the Commission will publish a set of guidelines on avoidance and management of conflicts of interest under the Financial Regulation during April 2021.'(1)

‘A conflict of interest exists when the impartial and objective performance of duties (…) is compromised by family, emotional, political or national affinity, economic interest or any other direct or indirect personal interest.’ (6)

The European executivewill therefore ‘follow up with the relevant Italian authorities on the specific situation reported by the Honorable Members to ensure that all necessary measures are taken to avoid a conflict of interest situation.’ (1)

Gabriele Papa Pagliardini, Teresa Bellanova and Coldiretti.

The Financial Regulation of the European Union defines with crystal clarity the duties of the national authority, in this case the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

‘Where there is a risk of conflict of interest involving a staff member of a national authority, the person in question shall inform his or her supervisor. (…) The appropriate supervisor (…) shall confirm in writing if it is established that a conflict of interest exists. Where a conflict of interest exists, the appointing authority or the relevant national authority shall ensure that the person in question ceases all activities in the matter. (…) The competent national authority shall ensure that any other appropriate action is taken in accordance with applicable law’. (6)

Teresa Bellanova had been vainly urged by 14 senators of the Italian Republic on 2.12.20 to put an end to Gabriele Papa Pagliardini’s conflict of interest. (7) And no one escapes the motive of his dereliction of duty, worthy of punishment under Article 328 of the Criminal Code. To pay yet another tribute to that same Coldiretti whose eternal secretary-general Vincenzo Gesmundo pledged the ‘Yes’ vote of Italian farmers to Matteo Renzi’s referendum on 9/29/16 in Florence. (8)

2) AGEA – Coldiretti – CAA, the second question waiting to be answered.

The European Commission has yet to answer the second question posed by the four Italian MEPs. The diabolical ‘convention between the Agricultural Disbursement Agency (AGEA) and the Agricultural Assistance Centers (CAAs)‘ that excludes freelancers from handling farmers’ financing and reimbursement paperwork. (7)

This issue needs to be urgently resolved first and foremost by the Antitrust Authority, given that the EU Financial Regulation allows cooperation between paying agencies and private entities, without distinguishing between companies and freelancers. (6) The exclusion of professionals from access to the SIAN (National Agricultural Information Service) is therefore in blatant conflict with the Treaty for the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU 101).

CAA monopoly, harm to farmers

The monopoly of CAAs (Agricultural Assistance Centers) imposed by their outlawed agreement with AGEA is forcing farmers to forego the wider provision of the same services by freelancers. Which may be more profitable and economical than the market-leading Coldiretti bandwagon, which will thus be able to drain more resources from farmers (in shares that already vary between 2 and 8 percent, according to estimates) thanks to the elimination of competition.

The risks of damage and loss are then exacerbated because professional requirements imposed on professionals (e.g., registration as a certified agronomist) are not required of CAA workers. Practices essential to the survival of farms may thus be handled by people lacking the specific skills and experience, perhaps hired through patronage and familiarity. The same promoter of the AGEA-CAA agreement, after all, is burning € 4 billion of 2014-2020 CAP funding already allocated to Italian farmers. (9)

Unusual relationships

Conflicts of interest in Coldiretti’s militant apparatus are the rule that the rest of the world-politics, judiciary and media organs first and foremost-prosists on ignoring. The case at hand revolves around AgriRevi S.p.A., which coincidentally boasts a number of figures with various reflexes in its pedigree. (10) A couple of examples:

Raffaele Grandolini, a.k.a. the Midas King of Coldiretti, first president of AgriRevi S.p.A. To his carnet of 24 corporate posts with a riot of conflicts of interest (11) is added the role of adviser in the ‘missile shield’ created by Coldiretti, theObservatory on Crime in Agriculture and the Agribusiness System,

Fabrizio Di Marzio, a founding partner of AgriRevi S.p.A., a former Supreme Court adviser and adviser to Giuseppe Conte, (12) is himself considered Coldiretti’s ‘legal manager’. As well as director of the aforementioned ‘Observatory,’ whose vice-chairman is Vincenzo Gesmundo, secretary general of the national confederation of Coldiretti.

Good government, #CleanSpades.

The Pagliardini case is one of the tips of the icebergs of relationships that are not only unusual but above all dangerous for democracy, the interests of Italian farmers and ranchers, and the country-system.

A measure by Minister Stefano Patuanelli and broader reform by the Mario Draghi-led government are now expected. Independence of policy choices from business committees is crucial.

Still waiting for the dutiful inquiry into #CleanSpades.

Dario Dongo

Notes

(1) Question E-007034/2020. Answer by Janusz Wojciechowski on behalf of the European Commission, 23.3.2021

(2) Dario Dongo. Conflict of interest AGEA – Pagliardini – Coldiretti, questions to the European Parliament. GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade). 30.1.21, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/idee/conflitto-d-interessi-agea-pagliardini-coldiretti-interrogazioni-al-parlamento-europeo

(3) Dario Dongo. Federconsorzi 2, CAI SpA, AgriRevi, Coldiretti. The jerk dinner. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 31.1.21, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/idee/federconsorzi-2-cai-spa-agrirevi-coldiretti-la-cena-dei-cretini

(4) Reg. EU 907/2014, Supplementing Regulation (EU) no. 1306/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council on paying agencies, management finance, settlement of accounts, deposits, and use of the euro. V. Annex 1(1)(B)(v)

(5) Reg. EU 1306/2013, on the financing, management and monitoring of the common agricultural policy, repealing Council Regulations No. 352/78, (EEC) no. 165/94, (EC) no. 2799/98, (EC) no. 814/2000, (EC) no. 1290/2005 and (EC) no. 485/2008. See Article 7

(6) Regulation (EU, Euratom) 2018/1046, laying down the financial rules applicable to the general budget of the Union. See Article 61, Conflict of Interest.

(7) Dario Dongo. Coldiretti, Federconsorzi 2 and the director of AGEA. Question to the Senate. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 8.1.21, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/mercati/coldiretti-federconsorzi-2-e-il-direttore-di-agea-interrogazione-al-senato

(8) Luciano Cerasa. Gentiloni pays for Matteo 80 million to Coldiretti. The Daily Fact. 5/26/17, https://www.ilfattoquotidiano.it/in-edicola/articoli/2017/05/26/gentiloni-paga-per-matteo-80-milioni-alla-coldiretti/3614979/

(9) Dario Dongo, Giulia Orsi. Report of the Court of Auditors on AGEA directed by Gabriele Papa Pagliardini. #CleanSpades. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 12.3.21. https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/mercati/relazione-della-corte-dei-conti-sull-agea-diretta-da-gabriele-papa-pagliardini-vanghepulite

(10) The list of shareholders of AgriRevi SpA is cited in footnote 5 of the article cited here in footnote 7

(11) Dario Dongo. Subsidized insurance in agriculture, the big business of Coldiretti’s magic circle. #CleanSpades. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 1.3.21. See notes 13 and 20, at https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/mercati/assicurazioni-agevolate-in-agricoltura-i-grandi-affari-del-cerchio-magico-di-coldiretti-vanghepulite

(12) Fabrizio Di Marzio, Conte’s friendly toga who could have interfered with the Dap’s decision. TV Twilight Zone. 5.5.20, https://www.zonedombratv.it/fabrizio-di-marzio-la-toga-amica-di-conte-che-avrebbe-potuto-interferire-sulla-decisione-del-dap/