The CAP combines a direct subsidy payment for crops and cultivated land with price support mechanisms, including guaranteed minimum prices, import tariffs and quotas on certain goods from outside the EU. Reforms of the system are currently underway reducing import controls and transferring subsidy to land stewardship rather than specific crop production (phased from 2005 to 2012). Detailed implementation of the scheme varies in different member countries of the EU.
Until 1992 the agriculture expenditure of the European Union represented nearly 61% of the EU's budget. By 2013, the share of traditional CAP spending will have almost halved (32%), following a decrease in real terms in the current financing period. In contrast, the amounts for the EU's Regional Policy represented 17% of the EU budget in 1988. They will more than double to reach almost 36% in 2013.
The aim of the common agricultural policy (CAP) is to provide farmers with a reasonable standard of living, consumers with quality food at fair prices and to preserve rural heritage. However, there has been considerable criticism of CAP.
The CAP is often explained as the result of a political compromise between France and Germany: German industry would have access to the French market; in exchange, Germany would help pay for France's farmers. Germany is still the largest net contributor into the EU budget; however, as of 2005 France is also a net contributor and the poorer and more agriculture-focused Spain, Greece and Portugal are the biggest beneficiaries. Transitional rules apply to the newly admitted member states which limit the subsidies which they currently receive.
The coverage of products in the external trade regime is more extensive than the coverage of the CAP regime. This is to limit competition between EU products and alternative external goods (for example, lychee juice could potentially compete with orange juice).
The initial objectives were set out in Article 39 of the Treaty of Rome:
The CAP recognised the need to take account of the social structure of agriculture and of the structural and natural disparities between the various agricultural regions and to effect the appropriate adjustments by degrees.
CAP is an integrated system of measures which works by maintaining commodity price levels within the EU and by subsidising production. There are a number of mechanisms:
The change in subsidies is intended to be completed by 2011, but individual governments have some freedom to decide how the new scheme will be introduced. The UK government has decided to run a dual system of subsidies, each year transferring a larger proportion of the total payment to the new scheme. Payments under the old scheme were frozen at their levels averaged over 2002-2003 and reduce each subsequent year. This allows farmers a period where their income is maintained, but which they can use to change farm practices to accord with the new regime. Other governments have chosen to wait, and change the system in one go at the latest possible time. Governments also have limited discretion to continue to direct a small proportion of the total subsidy to support specific crops. Alterations to the qualifying rules meant that many small landowners became eligible to apply for grants and the Rural Payments Agency in the UK received double the previous number of applications (110,000).
The CAP also aims to promote legislative harmonisation within the Community. Differing laws in member countries can create problems for anyone seeking to trade between countries. Examples are regulations on permitted preservatives or coloring agents in foods, labelling regulations, use of hormones or other drugs in livestock intended for human consumption and disease control (e.g. during the foot and mouth disease outbreak in the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Netherlands), animal welfare regulations. The process of removing all hidden legislative barriers to trade is still incomplete.
The CAP is funded by the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF) of the EU. CAP reform has steadily lowered its share of the EU budget but it still accounts for nearly half EU expenditure. In recent years France has benefited the most from these subsidies. The new accession countries which joined the EU in 2004 have large farm sectors and would have overtaken France as chief beneficiary, but for transitional regulations limiting the subsidies which they receive. The continuing problem of how subsidies for these countries will be paid when they become eligible has already led to French concessions on reform of the CAP. Further concessions will inevitably be necessary to balance the budget.
The Common Agricultural Policy was born in the late 1950s and early 1960s when the founding members of the EC had just emerged from over a decade of severe food shortages during and after the Second World War. As part of building a common market, tariffs on agricultural products would have to be removed. However, due to the political clout of farmers, and the sensitivity of the issue, it would take many years before the CAP was fully implemented.
In recent times change has been more forthcoming, due to external trade demands and intrusion in Common Agricultural Policy affairs by other parts of the EU policy framework, such as consumer advocate working groups and the environmental departments of the Union. In addition Euroscepticism in states such as the UK and Denmark is fed in part by the CAP, which is considered detrimental to their economies.
Keeping the CAP intact, though, is an important aim of EU policy. Farming is regarded as "special", a part of Europe's shared heritage encompassing food production and even fine dining. All of these are used as rationales for keeping the CAP strong. It is not simply just another industry, hence its massive presence in the EU psyche (and the EU budget.) Finally, the aim of self-sufficiency and a "shared larder" in Europe, a particularly salient concern in the post-war years, lingers to this day. It is claimed that the CAP is an exceptional economic sector as protects the "rural way of life", although it is recognised that this has an impact on world poverty.
On 21 December 1968, Sicco Mansholt (European Commissioner for Agriculture), sent a memorandum to the Council of Ministers concerning agricultural reform in the European Community. This long-term plan, also known as the ‘1980 Agricultural Programme’ or the ‘Report of the Gaichel Group’, named after the village in Luxembourg where it had been prepared, laid the foundations for a new social and structural policy for European agriculture.
The Mansholt Plan noted the limits to a policy of price and market support. It predicted the imbalance that would occur in certain markets unless the Community undertook to reduce its land under cultivation by at least 5 million hectares. The former Netherlands Minister of Agriculture also noted that the standard of living of farmers had not improved since the implementation of the CAP, despite an increase in production and permanent increases in Community expenditure. He therefore suggested that production methods should be reformed and modernised and that small farms, which were bound to disappear sooner or later, according to Community experts, should be increased in size. The aim of the Plan was to encourage nearly five million farmers to give up farming. That would make it possible to redistribute their land and increase the size of the remaining family farms. Farms were considered viable if they could guarantee for their owners an average annual income comparable to that of all the other workers in the region. In addition to vocational training measures, Mansholt also provided for welfare programmes to cover retraining and early retirement. Finally, he called on the Member States to limit direct aid to unprofitable farms.
Faced with the increasingly angry reaction of the agricultural community, Sicco Mansholt was soon forced to reduce the scope of some of his proposals. Ultimately, the Mansholt Plan was reduced to just three European directives which, in 1972, concerned the modernisation of agricultural holdings, the abandonment of farming and the training of farmers.
Hurt by the failure of Mansholt, would-be reformers were mostly absent throughout the 1970s, and reform proposals were few and far between. A system called "Agrimoney" was introduced as part of the fledgling EMU project, but was deemed a failure and did not stimulate further reforms.
The 1980s was the decade that saw the first true reforms of the CAP, foreshadowing further development from 1992 onwards. The influence of the farming bloc declined, and with it, reformers were emboldened. Environmentalists garnered great support in reforming the CAP, but it was financial matters that ultimately tipped the balance: due to huge overproduction the CAP was becoming expensive and wasteful. These factors combined saw the introduction of a quota on dairy production in 1984, and finally, in 1988, a ceiling on EU expenditure to farmers. However, the basis of the CAP remained in place, and not until 1992 did CAP reformers begin to work in earnest.
Since the MacSharry reforms, cereal prices have been closer to the equilibrium level, there is greater transparency in costs of agricultural support and the 'de-coupling' of income support from production support has begun. However, the administrative complexity involved invites fraud, and the associated problems of the CAP are far from being corrected.
It is worth noting that one of the factors behind the 1992 reforms was the need to reach agreement with the EU's external trade partners at the Uruguay round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) talks with regards to agricultural subsidies.
The current areas that are issues of reform in EU agriculture are: lowering prices, ensuring food safety and quality, and guaranteeing stability of farmers' incomes. Other issues are environmental pollution, animal welfare, and finding alternative income opportunities for farmers. Some of these issues are the responsibility of the member states.
A 2003 report, commissioned by the European Commission, by a group of experts led by Belgian economist André Sapir stated that the budget structure was a “historical relic”. The report suggested a rethink of EU policy, redirecting expenditure towards measures intended to increase wealth creation and cohesion of the EU. As a significant proportion of the budget is currently spent on agriculture, and there is little prospect of the budget being increased, this would necessitate reducing CAP expenditure. The report largely concerned itself discussing alternative measures more useful to the EU, rather than discussing the CAP, but it did also suggest that farm aid would be administered more effectively by member countries on an individual basis.
The report's findings were largely ignored. Instead, CAP spending was kept within the remit of the EU - and France led an effort to agree a fixed arrangement for CAP spending that would not be changed until 2012. This was made possible by advance agreement to this approach with Germany. It is this agreement that the UK currently wishes to see re-opened, both in their efforts to defend the UK position on the UK rebate and also given that the UK is in favour of lowering barriers to entry for third world agricultural exporters.
Details of the UK scheme were still being decided at its introductory date of May 2005. Details of the scheme in each member country may be varied subject to outlines issued by the EU. In England the single payment scheme provides a single flat rate payment of around £230 per hectare for maintaining land in cultivatable condition. In Scotland payments are based on a historical basis and can vary widely. The new scheme allows for much wider non-production use of land which may still receive the environmental element of the support. Additional payments are available if land is managed in a prescribed environmental manner.
The overall EU and national budgets for subsidy have been capped. This will prevent a situation where the EU is required to spend more on the CAP than its limited budget has.
The reforms enter into force in 2004-2005. (Member States may apply for a transitional period delaying the reform in their country to 2007 and phasing in reforms up to 2012)
Sugar was not included in the 1992 MacSherry reform, or in the 1999 Agenda 2000 decisions; sugar was also subject to a phase-in (to 2009) under the Everything But Arms trade deal giving market access to least developed countries. In 2005 European Union agriculture ministers announced plans to cut the minimum beet price by 39% from 2006, over four years. Under the Sugar Protocol to the Lome Convention, nineteen ACP countries export sugar to the EU, and will be affected by price reductions on the EU market.
As of 21 February 2006, the EU has decided on some reforms of sugar subsidies. The guaranteed price of sugar is to be cut by 36%, with European production projected to fall sharply as a result of this. According to the EU, this is the first serious reform of sugar under the CAP for 40 years.
An aim of this policy change is to allow easier and more profitable access to European markets for emerging economies. Critics, such as "EUPolitix", contend that this is not an altruistic move nor an idealistic shift from the EU, who are instead acting only in accordance with the wishes of the WTO, who supported challenges on sugar dumping by the EU from Australia, Thailand and Brazil. Another point of contention is that those countries who currently receive preferential treatment from EU member states - often due to colonial ties - as part of the ACP group may stand to lose out.
Similar attempts have been unsuccessful in the past and were opposed in the UK by two strong lobbying organizations the Country Land and Business Association and the National Farmers Union. Germany, which has large collective farms still in operation in what was East Germany also vigorously opposed changes which were marketed as "reforms". The proposal will be submitted for consultation with EU member states on November 20.
Moreover, it is argued that in creating an oversupply of agricultural products which are then sold in the Third World and simultaneously preventing the Third World from exporting its agricultural goods to the West, the CAP increases Third World poverty by putting Third World farmers out of business. According to the Human Development Report 2003 in 2000 the average dairy cow in the EU received $913 in subsidies, compared with an average of $8 per person in Sub-Saharan Africa.
On the other hand, high import tariffs (estimated at 18-28%) have the effect of keeping prices high by restricting competition by non-EU producers. It is estimated that public support for farmers in OECD countries costs a family of four on average nearly 1,000 USD per year in higher prices and taxes.
Some countries in the EU have larger agricultural sectors than others, notably France, Spain, and Portugal, and consequently receive more money under the CAP. Other countries receive more benefit from different areas of the EU budget. Overall, certain countries make net contributions, notably Germany (the largest contribution overall) and the Netherlands (the biggest contribution per person), but also the UK and France. The largest per capita beneficiaries are Greece and Ireland.
France has a slightly lower GDP than the UK, and its higher population means that it earns slightly less per person compared to the UK. Germany has a GDP approximately 25% higher than either France or the UK, but per capita income is comparable to the other two countries. France now makes a net payment into the EU budget, so it can not be said that it receives a subsidy from any other country. However, France remains the #1 beneficiary of the CAP, while the new member states receive only small financial aid.
The UK would have been contributing more money to the EU than any other EU member state, except that Margaret Thatcher's government negotiated a special annual UK rebate in 1984. Without the rebate the UK was the largest contributor despite being the third poorest member state. Due to the way the rebate is funded, France pays the largest share of the rebate (31%), followed by Italy (24%) and Spain (14%).
The discrepancy in CAP funding is a cause of some consternation in the UK. As of 2004, France received 13% of total CAP funds more than the UK (see diagram). This is a net benefit to France of €6.37 billion, compared to the UK. This is largely a reflection of the fact that France has more than double the land area of the UK. In comparison, the UK budget rebate for 2005 is scheduled to be approx €5.5 billion. The popular view in the UK (as, for example, set forth in the tabloid press) is that if the UK rebate were reduced with no change to the CAP, then the UK would be paying money to keep an inefficient French farming sector in business - to many people in the UK, this would be seen as "grossly unfair". French motives for generating arguments about "solidarity" and "selfishness" are therefore seen as extremely self-serving.
If the rebate were removed without changes to the CAP then the UK would pay a net contribution of 14 times that of the French (In 2005 EU budget terms). The UK would make a net contribution of €8.25 billion compared to the current contribution of €2.75 billion, versus a current French net contribution of €0.59 billion.
In December 2005 the UK agreed to give up approximately 20% of the rebate for the period 2007-2013, on condition that the funds did not contribute to CAP payments, were matched by other countries' contributions and were only for the new member states. Spending on the CAP remained fixed, as had previously been agreed. Overall, this reduced the proportion of the budget spent on the CAP. It was agreed that the European Commission should conduct a full review of all EU spending.
The 2007-2008 world food price crisis has renewed calls for farm subsidies to be removed in light of evidence that farm subsidies contribute to rocketing food prices, which has a particularly detrimental impact on developing countries.