Landowners who receive EU grants told they must put up permanent signs to publicise it or face financial penalties
Thousands of landowners have been told they must put up permanent billboards which can be seen by the public, or face financial penalties.
The new regulations led to warnings that farmers were being forced to become part of the “EU propaganda machine” in the run-up to a referendum on Britain’s membership.
Eurosceptic MPs are concerned that the EU will use its financial clout and funding for British institutions to try to influence the result of the vote.
There is also concern that the billboards could blight rural areas and popular walks, since up to 11,000 landowners could take part in the scheme.
Daniel Hannan, a eurosceptic Conservative MP, said: “Brussels is effectively offering landowners money to advertise the EU. Then again, that’s the reason that a lot of people in Britain agree to support the EU: NGOs, charities, big corporations and universities.”
Under the new Country Stewardship scheme, landowners receiving more than €500,000 (£388,000) must put up a 4ft by 6ft billboard.
Those receiving more than €50,000 (£38,825) of EU funding must put up a plaque of at least one square foot, while those getting €10,000 (£7,765) must display an A3 poster. Farmers will be expected to foot the bill for the signs themselves.
Graeme Willis, of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “We should use small signs and explore more imaginative ways to explain to people what farmers are doing to support nature.”
The controversy comes after a report, published this year, found that the EU is spending more than £500 million a year promoting itself.