The EU Common Agricultural Policy

The EU must serve up a better CAP!

The current reform of the EU agricultural policy must bring answers to the ecological, social and economic challenges we face. In 2021, decision makers will decide on Europe’s future of farming in the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (more info below). The European Parliament, Council and Commission are negotiating how subsidies will be spend in the next 7 years and the national governments design their plans for national implementation of the policy. While the reform is in full swing, first decisions in the European Parliament and Council are not very promising. Rather they have shown the will to continue a business as usual policy which will drive us further into ecologic and social crisis.

This is why a broad coalition of civil society is campaigning for #WithdrawTheCAP. Small-scale farmers, climate activists, consumers, nature lovers and animal health groups together with more civil society actors are asking the European Commission to withdraw their current proposal and start fresh. The current proposal would invest billions of Euros into a business as usual approach, paying out a majority of the money blind per hectare subsidies.

Instead, farmers and consumers across Europe are asking for a green and fair CAP, which can tackle the climate crisis, reverse the rapid loss of biodiversity, and ensure healthy and sustainable consumption and production. It must deliver quality rural employment and decent livelihoods for our farmers and rural communities, protecting them from harmful pesticides.

What needs to change

As it is today, the CAP encourages practices of intensive agriculture, cutthroat competition on international markets and corresponding farm expansion. The CAP does not encourage environmental and biodiversity protection, and is contrary to the goal set out in the European Union’s new flagship program, the “Green Deal”. As presented in April 2020 by the European Commission, the included “Farm to Fork” strategy aims to reduce the use of pesticides by 50% and fertilisers by 20% until 2030, and by the same time reach 25% of agricultural land in the EU farmed organically.

Nonetheless, a common agricultural policy remains crucial. Farming not only produces our food, but many other public goods on which we rely: preserving the landscape, creating dynamic rural areas, maintaining a diversity of culinary traditions and maintaining soil quality. These services are not reflected in the very low selling price of produce. A common policy can strengthen a collective effort to cultivate food sovereignty, protect the environment, tackle the climate crisis and restore biodiversity.

The CAP thus needs a major, in-depth reform to win back its  legitimacy as a public budget. It must become a policy at the service of all farmers, but also of all Europeans. To get there, blind financial support, uncoupled to good farming practice must be abandoned, and room made for a ‘public money for public goods’ approach. This implicates taking a more holistic approach on food production and consumption, integrating the CAP into a Common Food Policy and refocusing all actions on the transition to sustainable and fair agri-food systems.


About the CAP

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a European Union policy dedicated to agriculture and rural development. It was implemented in 1962 and has a long history since. At that time, it aimed at developing agricultural production to feed the European people after the end of the Second World War, a goal it quickly achieved. However, this has led to perverse overproduction today.

Since inception, the CAP has been reformed multiple times. The last reform took place in 2014 and the reform negotiation process is in full swing right now. The next CAP cycle will likely begin in 2023, after a transition period of two years making up for the delay in the current reform negotiations.

Today the CAP accounts for about 40% of the EU’s budget, and the biggest share of the whole budget!

The CAP is divided in three approaches, each having different goals and operating schemes:

  • The first pillar amounts to 70% of the CAP’s budget. It grants direct aids to farmers. These mean a basic income based on the amount of land used. There is no link to how the land is used and what is produced.
  • The second pillar is concerned with agri-environmental measures and rural development. It is financed in part by the EU and also by Member States, under what is called co-financing. This part of the CAP provides financial support to new farmers as well as to farmers facing a competitive disadvantage due to their geographical position or their production methods. It also supports the farm’s evolution towards greater competitiveness or environmental-friendly practices.
  • The common market determines how the EU may intervene on markets for agricultural products in cases of crisis. It also serves as safeguard to imports and exports of agricultural products.

Read a more detailed introduction to the CAP here, and find more info material on the CAP see here.

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