HomeIdeaAGEA and MASAF 'Coldiretti'. The suppression of freelancers in agriculture

AGEA and MASAF 'Coldiretti'. The suppression of freelancers in agriculture

AGEA and MASAF (General Agency for Agricultural Payments and Ministry of Agriculture, Food Sovereignty and Forestry) – increasingly 'Coldiretti' – are carrying forward the plan for the suppression of freelancers in and around agriculture.

After the measures adopted by the AGEA, aimed at affirming the exclusivity of the CAA in the management of company files for European funding, a draft ministerial decree emerges aimed at proclaiming the absolute monopoly of Coldiretti. #CleanSpades.

1) Introduction. Agriculture and rural development, European funding

Italy is in first place in Europe for the added value in agriculture, essentially thanks to the production of wine of which it is a global leader. The survival of the sector is also linked to European funding in agriculture and rural development, within the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy). Their provision in Italy depends on:

- AGEA. The public administration body that manages the mass of European contributions in the agri-food sector in Italy, as well as the mass of data, communications and mandatory registrations that companies are required to submit to access them. From one Region to another, AGEA directly manages applications and payments or directs and coordinates a regional paying body,

- SIAN. The National Agricultural Information System is the IT infrastructure through which the procedures for disbursing EU funding in the agri-food sector pass. Which concern farmers and breeders but also food and feed processing companies (including from non-EU raw materials), as well as those certified for the production and trade of organic foods. (1)

2) CAA and freelancers

The CAAs – Authorized Agricultural Assistance Centers – are companies built 'tailor-made' by the agricultural confederations to which the Italian State has entrusted the management of most of the practices in the agri-food sector, presented through the SIAN infrastructure and then managed by AGEA for the phases of data collection, investigation and settlement. (2)

Freelancers they are therefore forced to establish CAAs or to enter into agreements with them in order to simply be able to work, that is, to offer their clients the services for which they are authorized by current legislation and by the professional associations to which they belong. With all due respect to free competition, and a further mockery:

– professionals are subject to specific requirements of higher education or degree, as the case may be, in addition to professional qualification exams and continuing education obligations,

– CAA employees have no study obligations and can simply self-certify six months of 'experience in the agricultural sector' (e.g. working in an agricultural confederation) to be able to access the SIAN infrastructure.

3) Suppression of freelance professionals in agriculture, AGEA resolution 9.8.22

Monopoly ambitions of the CAA - read, Coldiretti's 'Green Enterprise' system - had already found ample satisfaction in the agreements stipulated with them by Gabriele Papa Pagliardini. Starting from 2020, the then director of AGEA, in conflict of interests with the magic circle of Coldiretti, (3) had begun to exclude freelancers from access to SIAN. Triggering an administrative dispute with the professional associations which ultimately ended to their further detriment (4,5,6).

The imposed condition to freelancers to operate on the SIAN infrastructure is the renunciation of one's work and life choices:

– thousands of agronomists, agrotechnicians and agricultural experts (but also surveyors, industrial experts, accountants and chartered accountants, labor consultants, etc.) should set up specific companies (CAA) and entrust only employees with access to the National Agricultural Information System ,

– lastly, AGEA resolution 9.8.22 n. 41 provided for the disabling of access credentials to the SIAN for operators not employed by the CAA or companies affiliated with it, starting from 1 September 2023. Yet another bolt from the blue. But that is not all.

4) Coldiretti monopoly, the new ministerial decree scheme

Coldiretti's monopoly it will be crowned by the end of the year - in the imperialistic ambitions of Vincenzo Gesmundo, the one on whom everything depends - through a ministerial decree which aims to exclude not only freelancers in agriculture but also the CAA 'children of a lesser God'. A draft of this decree is attached, drawn up at the end of August 2023 (see Attachment), with his salient features underlined in ocher. Some notes to follow.

4.1) Public service, unfair competition, conflicts of interest

'The CAAs they occupy an important place in the process of disbursement of public resources of the CAP, as they play the dual role of representatives of the agricultural companies that turn to them for the disbursement of assistance activities and for the establishment and updating of the company file, and delegates of the Paying Bodies, who can entrust them, through a specific agreement, with the carrying out of public administrative activities connected to checks on the formal regularity of the documentation provided by farmers and the correct insertion of the relevant information into the SIAN and the information systems of the paying agencies'(recital 1).

Agricultural businesses (and not only) are thus forced to rely on the CAA to access European funding, and these same CAAs - exclusively entrusted with a public service which involves the direct management of company files - can then provide the companies themselves with 'assistance' whose limits are never clearly defined. Freelancers are therefore forced to 'hand over' their clients to the CAA, who can then offer companies the same 'assistance' services already offered by freelancers, without paying attention to conflicts of interest between public functions (of delegate of the paying agency) and private (of communication with the delegate of the paying agency itself) nor to the unfair competition that derives from it.

4.2) Professionals in slavery

The professionals who participate as members in a CAA, subject to a minimum capital of €51.646, instead incur a series of prohibitions:

- 'use the company data of which they have become aware in the exercise of the activities delegated to the CAA for other purposes, and, in any case, within the scope of their own freelance activity’,

- 'provide consultancy or carry out activities, including delegated control functions (...) in any way connected to administrative proceedings, initiated or managed by the CAA to which they belong and by any other CAA operating on the national territory'.

Members of the Order of agronomists and forestry doctors or to the College of agrotechnicians and graduate agrotechnicians - in addition to being forced to submit to individual CAAs - they should therefore also respect a ban on competition with the universality of the CAAs.

4.3) Access to SIAN registers

'Inside SIAN the following computer registers are established:

– 'list of CAA offices': single register at national level containing the list of CAAs authorized pursuant to this decree and the related offices,

– 'National Register of Operators': single register at national level containing the details of CAA operators' (MASAF decree scheme, article 5).

Suppressed thus definitively the freelancers, in defiance of the fundamental rights affirmed in the Italian Constitution and the 'EU Charter for Fundamental Human Rights'. (7)

4.4) CAA requirements

The competition of the CAA 'children of a lesser God' is canceled by the specific operational and structural requirements introduced in the draft decree:

- 'the minimum territorial scope of operation of the CAA coincides with the territory of the region or an autonomous province’,

- 'the CAA must have operational structures in all the provinces of the region in which it intends to operate and demonstrate suitable operational capacity in reference to its own offices and those of the service companies employed (...), in reference to each province'(Article 9),

- 'the availability of premises used for the exercise of the CAA's activities must be guaranteed, exclusively or simultaneously with the exercise of the activity of the Authorized Tax Assistance Center (CAF)’,

- 'in the premises used for carrying out CAA activities, activities other than those delegated by the Paying Bodies cannot be carried out’,

- 'the CAA, and the companies they use, operate through employees, collaborators, professionals, with proven experience and reliability in the provision of assistance activities in agricultural matters, in compliance with labor, tax, social security, welfare and insurance obligations'(Article 10),

- 'employees and collaborators who carry out the functions of CAA operators:
a) they must be CAA employees with an employment relationship and an exclusivity clause,
b) must not maintain consultancy relationships with public administrations or private entities'(Article 11).

4.5) Rules for carrying out delegated functions

The circle (of the monopoly) ends with a rigorous regime of 'carrying out delegated functions' (article 12), which contemplates 'the separation between the functions of admissibility (verification of completeness, adequacy and formal correctness), reception and logging of requests, applications and declarations in the interest of the producer and the function of recording data and documents in the Information Systems on behalf of the delegating public entities pursuant to Annex I of Regulation (EU) no. 127/2022'.

As that wasn't enough – in addition to the separation of functions, operational and budgetary certifications, etc. – 'the agreements between the CAA and the coordination body and the paying bodies, as well as with the regions and autonomous provinces of Trento and Bolzano, may provide, in relation to the activities entrusted, operational capacity requirements additional to the minimum ones' already established in the draft decree (article 12).

4.6) Service companies

The only service companies which the CAA can use to carry out their functions and activities must be wholly ownedby the organizations and associations that formed the CAA or by their territorial organizations'.

Such companies in any case they must meet the structural and administrative requirements envisaged for the same CAAs, referred to in articles 10 and 11 of this decree (see above, paragraph 4.4. See draft decree, article 12). 'Mission impossible', once again, for freelancers who intend to maintain their role as consultants.

4.7) 'Tailor-made' fees

The 'mode of definition of the fees'which they are entitled to'to the CAA for delegated administrative functions' provide for the establishment, by the delegating administrations, of 'an incentive system that takes into account the organizational structure of the CAA and the times used to complete all phases of the procedure, such as to avoid peaks in activity and delays in the submission of applications'(article 6).

In practice, the fearless ones who dare to try to compete with the CAA of Coldiretti (even only at regional or autonomous provincial level), after having faced the Herculean labors of organizing the 'minimum requirements' defined in the aforementioned rules, will risk receiving lower contributions for their activities. Because no one will ever be able to compete with the organizational structures of the yellow flags, which will therefore receive more compensation.

4.8) Mandate, transitional rules

Producers and businesses interested in receiving assistance in accessing the data present in the national and regional information systems must give the CAA 'an ad hoc mandate' (article 19). That is to say that freelancers will no longer be able to delegate the management of practices to monopolistic CAAs but will in effect have to cede their clients to them, thus effectively losing any 'chance' of providing them with 'assistance' on those and various other practices .

Twelve months of purgatory, from the date of publication of the decree, will be recognized only toCAA and the companies they use are already authorized'. In the sixty days following this last date, the coordination body will verify possession of the 'minimum requirements', in view of the revocation of previous authorizations by the Regions and autonomous Provinces. The decree in question will repeal the previous CAA regulations. (2)

5) Impact on free competition and employment

The requirement for CAA to operate only through employed personnel entails:

– an unjustified restriction on the provision of services in the EU market, to the detriment of freelancers who have always been authorized to provide assistance in the management of EU funding practices in the agri-food sector,

– an equally unjustified limit on competition, which precludes client companies from choosing suppliers of the aforementioned services. With a potential increase in costs linked to the fees of CAA operating under a monopoly regime,

– the concrete risk of reducing the quality of services, since the competence and professionalism requirements required of CAA employees are significantly lower than those required by professional regulations for freelancers (see above, paragraph 2).

6) Agriculture and livestock farming in Italy, what future?

The Court of Auditors had already stigmatized the previous management of AGEA, where Gabriele Papa Pagliardini had irremediably burned €4,168 billion in rural development aid (as well as several tens of millions of euros in deficits, uncollected aid and various other irregularities). (8) Pagliardini, according to some rumours, was then 'exiled' to Bonifiche Ferraresi – a minority shareholder with strengthened powers in CAI SpA, alias Federconsorzi 2 – to deal with tenders and contracts.

The new director general of AGEA, Fabio Vitale, recently announced the 'new course' of the General Agency for Agricultural Payments. Highlighting how a third of the arable land, equal to 3,7 million hectares, is today abandoned. (9) Loan applications to AGEA – through which approximately €7,5 billion pass each year – decreased by 10%, from 500 to 450 thousand, in the last financial year alone. The question remains how the 'new course' can redeem agriculture in Italy without getting rid of those truly responsible for its collapse.

#CleanSpades

Dario Dongo

ATTACHMENT Draft decree ministry of agriculture, food sovereignty and forests

Footnotes

(1) Training and research bodies that provide courses or develop research projects in turn can benefit from European funds in the agri-food sector, as can public administrations that present projects in the field of rural development, such as the restructuring of a village of historical value in rural territory

(2) The CAA, established in Italy in 2001, are still governed by the Ministerial Decree of 27 March 2008 (Reform of authorized agricultural assistance centres) https://tinyurl.com/34xwrvw6

(3) Dario Dongo. AGEA - Coldiretti, the European Commission rejects the conflict of interest. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(4) Dario Dongo. TAR Lazio cancels the AGEA-CAA agreement. #Clean shovels. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(5) Dario Dongo. Tris of the Lazio TAR on the CAA. Freelancers admitted. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(6) Dario Dongo. CAA, the State Council rejects freelancers. #Clean shovels. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(7) Article 15 of the European Charter for Fundamental Rights, 'Freedom to choose an occupation and right to engage in work', provides that:

'1. Everyone has the right to engage in work and to pursue a freely chosen or accepted occupation.
2. Every citizen of the Union has the freedom to seek employment, to work, to exercise the right of establishment and to provide services in any Member State'

(8) Dario Dongo, Giulia Orsi. Report of the Court of Auditors on AGEA directed by Gabriele Papa Pagliardini. #Clean shovels. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(9) Giorgio Dell'Orefice. Agriculture, a third of arable land is abandoned. The sun 24 hours. 24.9.23

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