Land Parcel Identifications Systems (LPIS) are IT systems based on aerial or satellite photographs recording all agricultural parcels in a country. They are used as a control mechanism under the EU's common agricultural policy and are designed to verify eligibility for area-based subsidies, which amounted to approximately €45.5 billion in 2015.
LPISs are useful, but management of the systems could be improved, the ECA said after visiting Austria, Germany, Ireland, Poland and Scotland.
While aerial and satellite photographs are mostly up to date, their interpretation is not always "reliable or conclusive", the ECA said. Additional information on ownership and lease rights, used to ensure each parcel of land had been checked by the right farmer, was only included in some of the systems, it said.
The European Commission has improved its monitoring through improved guidance and regular audits, but yearly quality assessments by member states are methodologically weak and the Commission has not checked or followed these up sufficiently, the ECA said.
Nikolaos Milionis, the ECA member responsible for the report said: "Weaknesses in the systems are affecting member states’ ability to check the eligibility of land. Reliable data is essential to ensure payments are legal and regular."
The auditors recommended that countries improve their update process, and check whether land is at a farmer's disposal. They should also set up a framework for assessing the cost of running and updating their LPISs to measure performance and the cost effectiveness of improvements.
Countries also need to make sure that LPISs can reliably identify and monitor ecological focus areas, permanent grassland and other categories, the ECA said.
The Commission should simplify and streamline some of the rules and look into whether quality assessment could be improved to achieve better coverage of land, it said.