Future Of EU's Farming Policy Under the Spotlight

EU - The CAP debate is well under way, with all EU countries wanting to make sure their views are heard.
calendar icon 15 April 2010
clock icon 3 minute read

Keeping a watchful eye on Europe's farming policy. A hen producing organic eggs.

The share of the EU's budget for Europe's Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) has been cut from 75 per cent in 1985 to around 40 per cent today.

The number of farms however has doubled with the accession of the 12 new EU countries and the CAP faces new challenges regarding climate change and the economic crisis. MEPs discussed its future on 12 April with Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos.

The CAP was reformed in 2003 and a subsequent "Health Check" performed in 2008. It was modernised by removing production restrictions and equipping it to face new challenges such as climate change and protecting biodiversity.

Under the Lisbon treaty agriculture falls under co-decision and MEPs have gained power over the agriculture budget. MEPs will decide, together with the European Union governments, on the future course of the policy.

Attention is now shifting to food security, with world demand for food expected to double by 2050 according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation. The EP will express its views by next summer, just before the European Commission is due to present its proposals.

Cheap food and reasonable farm prices the goal

At the hearing, Mr Ciolos said "the CAP can contribute to the EU 2020 strategy. It is one of the key policies of European integration and is necessary for employment, green growth and climate change."

However, he went on to warn that "there's a real lack of communication towards the citizens. A Eurobarometer survey shows that more than 99 per cent of citizens believe agriculture is vital for the European future. But only one out of three citizens has heard about the CAP". Some of the key questions he pointed out were: "How can we make sure consumers get top quality food? How can we ensure reasonable prices for agricultural products and reasonable incomes for farmers?" He called for a public debate.

How can farming be made greener?

German MEP Albert Dess of the centre right European People's Party told the hearing that "agriculture is responsible for a great amount of cultural heritage. Putting food on the table of 500 million EU citizens also is a huge responsibility and therefore should be a priority".

Portuguese Socialist Luis Manuel Capoulas Santos said, "We have to meet the expectations of our voters. We have to be in a position to answer questions. Real streamlining and simplification is needed."

Green MEP Martin Häusling noted, "Many farmers give up, we can see this in several rural areas in Europe where villages have lost their reason to exist. Major operators are profiting a lot more than small farms from the CAP, although most jobs in the agriculture sector are created by small farms. Farming must also be greener, but how?"

Farming after 2013

British Liberal George Lyon in his draft report sets out the future of the CAP after 2013. Lyon identifies five key areas: food security and fair trade, agriculture across Europe, biodiversity and environmental protection, sustainability and green growth. The rising cost of energy and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions however could act as major constraints to increased production.

Mr Lyon told the hearing: "The impact of climate change will close off the option of bringing large tracts of extra land into production. Climate change will also cause water shortages and droughts which again will act as a break on increasing production."

He went on to say that "European farmers and the CAP must show that they have some of the answers to the 21st century challenges and that they are part of the solution, not part of the problem".

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