France told to repay €1 billion in EU farm aid

France must repay the EU €1.07 billion ($1.2 billion) in agricultural aid paid to farmers due to fraud and mistakes over a four-year period, the European Commission said on Tuesday.

The money, about 2 percent of the 40 billion that France has received from Brussels between 2008 and 2012 under the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, must be repaid in three instalments up to 2017, a European source said.

France was penalized for failing to check farmers' claims for subsidies, especially on environmental issues and calculating the area of arable land.

Fifteen European Union nations were hit by demands to repay farm aid but France was by far the worst hit, according to figures in the EU's official journal.

Paris did however manage to reduce the sum from the €1.8 billion initially demanded by Brussels, officials said.

The demand comes just months after British Prime Minister David Cameron was enraged by a €2.1 billion bill from Brussels that was based on a recalculation of EU nations' budgets dating back a decade.

Britain later said it had halved the bill and managed to extend the deadline for payment from December 1st, 2014, until September 2015.

The Common Agricultural Policy, which accounts for 38 percent of the Brussels budget, has been a subject of debate almost as long as the bloc has existed.

Spending on farming has traditionally divided EU states, with France, Spain, Germany and Italy the major beneficiaries of agricultural subsidies.