The EU Common Agricultural Policy

The EU must serve up a better CAP!

Small-scale farmers, climate activists, consumers, nature lovers and animal health groups together with more civil society actors demanded a CAP, which would bring answers to the ecological, social and economic challenges we face. Yet, in June 2021, decision makers took a different choice for Europe’s future of farming in the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (more info below). They decided on a policy, which will drive us further into ecologic and social crisis, while presenting the reform as greener and fairer. The reality is: With these decisions, they are manifesting the status quo, investing billions of Euros into a business as usual approach, paying out a majority of the money as blind per hectare subsidies.

Instead, farmers and consumers across Europe want 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 latest CAP reform has been concluded in June 2021, with an agreement between the European Parliament, the Council of agriculture ministers and the European Commission. In 2022, the member states submitted their plans for their national implementation for approval to the European Commission. The current CAP came into effect in the beginning of 2023 and will end in 2027. But there is no time to slow down – the discussions on the post-2027 CAP will already start this year!

The EU spends almost a third of its budget on farming subsidies, around €54 billion per year.

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

  • The first pillar grants hectar-based payments to farmers,  based on the amount of land used. There are very basic environmental and social conditions farmers have to meet to be able to receive these payments.  A new measure introduced with the post 2023 CAP are so-called Eco-schemes. These are payments for practices beneficial to the environment, climate, and animal welfare. Member States have to spend 20% per year, from 2025 on 25% of the first pillar money on Ecoschemes, however they are free to define what can qualify as Eco-schemes.
  • The second pillar is concerned with agri-environmental measures and rural development. It provides financial support for example to new farmers as well as to farmers facing a competitive disadvantage due to their geographical position or their production methods.
  • 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 a summary of the decisions taken on the post-2023 CAP here. You can find more info and communication material on the CAP here.