The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is one of the more controversial areas of EU policy. It’s also the most expensive, representing more than 40% of the EU’s total budget and costing 57.5 billion euros in 2013 alone (though that is still a huge decrease from the 71% of the budget it represented in 1984). The money is largely spent on direct payments to farmers (subsidies) as well as rural development.

Overall, farmers in Western EU Member States benefit much more from the CAP than the newer Eastern members. Farmers in France, Spain, Germany, Italy and the UK receive the greatest percentage of CAP payments.

Since we last looked at the CAP, a series of reforms have been agreed between ministers and MEPs aimed particularly at making farming in Europe more sustainable and putting a greater emphasis on environmental protection. We thought it might be a good time to revisit the CAP debate and look at some of the reforms.

One of our commenters, Karel, sent us in a comment arguing that the debate around CAP reform should be much more nuanced than simply “scrapping” the CAP or not. He felt that more attention should be paid to the question of which farmers should actually receive subsidies from the EU:

citizen_icon_180x180I think the debate should be widened to: who deserves to receive subsidies, the small farmers who are asked to stay on their desolate islands, or the food multinational conglomerates that control food prices and on top of that get rich on tax payer’s money? The largest part of the sums given flow to multinational companies like food conglomerates, sugar manufacturers and liquor distillers.

To get a reaction to Karel’s comment, we took it to Phil Bennion, a British   Liberal Democrat MEP who has been involved with EU agricultural policy since the 1980s. How would he respond?

To get another perspective, we also spoke to Stuart Agnew, a British MEP with the   Eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP).

Stuart_Agnew_MEPThere comes a point when you get the economy of scale. And, in my mind, that point is 1500 acres. I feel that once you get to that sort of area of farmed land, you don’t really need a subsidy.

Now, in terms of big farms, there’s a lot of disagreement about this. When we were negotiating the CAP the EU said that the calculations should take into account big farms which employ a lot of people, and they should be deemed to be farming less land because they’re employing people. That isn’t such a bad idea, but the problem is immediately that after you do that, it’s difficult to work out who is an employee. Does the farmer just put his wife and children down who are nothing to do with it? The more you try and regulate this, the more complicated it becomes, and the administrative burden becomes quite significant on the taxpayer, simply paying people to organise this.

The problem with the CAP is that we have twenty-eight countries with such diverse agriculture sectors. Many small farmers in Germany are actually part-time; they have a small holding and they also work somewhere else. And one would say: well, if they’ve already got another job, do they really need a subsidy on their agricultural activities? So, you’ve got that question mark there as well.

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Lars_Pistasj

55 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think? Do large farms really need CAP subsidies to support themselves? Or do they help sustain employment in rural areas? Should more money go to smaller farms? Or would that just go into the pockets of part-time farmers? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we'll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.

  1. avatar
    Kevin Higgins

    Smaller farms all the way. Been proven that smaller farms can produce more than big farms and they also have a lower average carbon footprint. Its time we subsidise organic instead of unsustainable pesticide farming.

    • avatar
      Corrado Pirzio-Biroli

      This is bullshit. While I favour small farms and think big farms don’t need any subsidies beyond o point, it is simply untrue that small farms except the small share of orgnic ones, pollute less then big farms; they actually often pollute more per ha, because most small farmers cannot make a living without the highest fertilizer use. Besides, organic farms are already subsidized.

  2. avatar
    João Garangana

    I think the EU should drop the pathetic project of legislations that are attempting to pattent seeds, destroy small farmers and favour lobbies… but I guess that’s what EU is all about, since its origin…

    • avatar
      Corrado Pirzio-Biroli

      It is clear that you have no idea what the EU is all about. If European citizens are to usefully criticize the EU in order to improve it, they need first to bother to learn something about what it has achieved, what it wants, and how it can get there convincing the member governments to agree

  3. avatar
    Dim Cautain

    Small farms are the best way to produce food sustainably and create sustainable jobs. The EU should be supporting such initiatives as fresh farmers markets, newly established farmers, farmers’ cooperatives, etc. The big business of industrial agriculture is damaging our environment, our health, our economy. It is dominated by profit-making conglomerates which have little incentive to treat both nature and their employees respectfully. The EU’s efforts on agriculture are massively misallocated and ill-targeted. Let’s petition it to change, vote in the elections next May!

  4. avatar

    But the ‘scrapping’ of CAP IS the right question to ask. It’s €57 billion in subsidies to an industry with only €230 billion in output (IMF numbers). The cost of such market disruption is huge. The only merit of the CAP is the ‘greening’ and rural development, which can be achieved with far less money. And if a company succeeds in preserving the landscape and biodiversity under the ‘greening’ requirements, the yearly turnover of that company is the least of my worries.

    • avatar
      Corrado Pirzio-Biroli

      Wrong! Agriculture is the basis of Europe’s agri-food production, which provides one of its top exports in terms of value added. Don’t forget that all countries in the world have agricultural policies, that non EU members such as Norway and Switzerland spend for agriculture a multiple of the EU, that countries such as India spend five times their share of GDP for agriculture compared to the EU, and that the EU and its member states devote 0.9% of their GDP to agriculture while farmers represent over 5% of their population. It is lack of common EU policies that gave the CAP such a share of the EU budget. If we had a common European defense policy, which many people consider reasonable, but governments don’t want to share, it would represent at least four time the share of the CAP in the EU. Get your mathematics right before you utter platitudes. budget. Where you are right is on greening, but unfortunately the last CAP reform talked much bout it but will provide little result on that.

  5. avatar
    Thomas Duffy

    Kevin Higgins Can you link to the source of the data on that claim? Katarina Vella European farmers have very little control of the actual final cost of food produce, the percentage of the retail price they get range from tiny to barely anything

    • avatar
      Corrado Pirzio-Biroli

      Right. It’s a scandal how little share of the shelf price farmers, in particular the small disorganized ones, get compared to a long chain of intermediaries who live off the farmers’ back.

  6. avatar
    Thomas Duffy

    Kevin Higgins Simple really you said it was “proven” I asked for the proof. That report actually focuses more on improving agroecology on farms and potential for decreasing rural poverty by investing in small holders (a widely accepted principle in rural development). Nowhere in it though those it say that a number of small farms can outproduce big farms nor that they would have lower average carbon footprint. As for the video, anecdotal evidence is not proof, he may be able to outyield some large farms but probably not even the average. Also I’m confused by the sentence “subsidise organic instead of unsustainable pesticide farming” as organic farms also use pesticides, herbicides and fungicides

  7. avatar
    Thomas Duffy

    In addition Kevin Higgins, the video is a fascinating example of well run urban farming but if it were scaled up to become bigger what would be the problem? He would employ more and still be using the same environmental measures he is using at present. I dont see the obstacle

  8. avatar
    Paul X

    CAP should be withdrawn altogether. Its only purpose is to subsidies French farmers.
    In fact it wasn’t until CAP was fully set up (to give maximum benefit to France) that the French suddenly withdrew their veto of the UK joining the EEC, obviously just in time for us to start paying for it

    • avatar
      Corrado Pirzio-Biroli

      Wrong simplification. The CAP was the price the Germans paid for France’s acceptance of the common market (which is a good thing). But few know that it were the Germans who were among the biggest beneficiaries of the CAP, as studies have indicated.

  9. avatar
    Kenny Gabbay

    I just want to eat proper food. I just want my food not to contain so much pesticide, antibiotics and other chemicals in it. I just want animals to be treated the proper way and not as producing machines. I want them to have a decent death (and life). I just want farmers to receive a decent salary for their (quality) work and not being pushed by big retailers to ridiculous prices. For those simple reasons I want subsidies to go to quality farms instead of big industrial farms. But who am I? Only a citizen who is concerned by his food.

  10. avatar
    Kevin Higgins

    Thomas Duffy – Look up the word unsustainable. Also look up where the money goes in the EU. Do you honestly think its better having organic fruit & Veg more expensive than the low quality alternatives with less nutrients per item?

  11. avatar
    Thomas Duffy

    Thanks Kevin Higgins but my postgrad is in Sustainable Agriculture and a current masters student of Environmental resource management so I’m very familiar with the concept of sustainability thanks. I never said for a moment I was against organic in any way shape or form. I support a farmers right to choose to farm and a consumers right to choose a product according to their perspective and economic situation (which often limits people from buying organic produce). I would point out though a systematic review of multiple studies on organic vs conventional produce in Stanford found no difference in nutrient contents so I have no idea what you mean by “low quality” vegetables?

  12. avatar
    eusebio manuel vestias pecurto

    Eu defendo uma agricultura sustentável e que cada um dos agricultores Europeus não devem ficar de costas voltadas para a terra há que criar uma dinâmica de aproveitamento de terra tudo se faz e tudo se vende Eu defendo que os campos deviam ser cartografados para se poder saber que cada um dos agricultores estão a produzir E também defendo o empreendodorismo social

  13. avatar
    Christos Mouzeviris

    CAP helps European farmers and products being competitive and protects us from things like GMO.. There are a lot of money wasted on it of course and overall its use is taken for granted and abused..It is also outdated, as it has changed little since it was launched. So instead of “scrapping” things, why don’t we reform them and updated them? Redirect funds from the old EU members to the newest members, especially the likes of Romania, Poland and Hungary, which have vast farming sector.. Support smaller farmers instead of the large ones, who do not really need it.. Make it fair and reform it into something that European farmers won’t have access so that they won’t produce, rather into a fund that they can have access when they really need the money when they want to expand or invest their business and in case of natural disasters..

  14. avatar
    Christos Mouzeviris

    Those who want to scrap CAP altogether, are opening the doors to GMOs in Europe, as the USA wants to promote its GMO agricultural products into Europe’s markets, but because of Europe’s policies it can not.. Think before you scrap things…

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @Christos Mouzeviris
      FTR, CAP cannot stop GMOs BUT the EU can and should – your logic regarding CAP and GMOs is thus flawed.

      I do however agree with you that the typical beneficiaries of CAP [especially France] should have their Charitable Agricultural Payments (CAP) diverted to LARGE farms in the likes of Bulgaria, and Romania UNDER STRICT ANTI-CORRUPTION control measures. Any corruption on the part of the new EU developing nations that benefit from CAP should result in a financial penalty twice that of the amount stolen.

    • avatar
      Paul X

      I’ve thought about it……….and I cannot see any connection between CAP and GMOs

      The main case against GMO’s has nothing to do with food safety but is about corporate concerns and the usual European “Anti-Americanism”. If GMO’s were properly regulated there are millions of starving people on this planet who would quite happily eat GM produce

      IF CAP was somehow preventing GMO entry into Europe then I would still want it abolished as I disagree with my taxes being wasted on other peoples ideologies

    • avatar
      Christos Mouzeviris

      Paul and Tarquin, the Americans are pushing for the scrapping of CAP, as it makes European agricultural products very competitive and theirs can not enter the European market.. It is called protectionism, from our side.. A protectionism though, that I find useful, as I strongly oppose GMOs on my table and in Europe. So I do not want to see this kind of European protectionism gone altogether, rather reforming it to make it work better, but still keep GMO out of our markets. We have too many American goods flooding in anyway, let us keep something European..

    • avatar
      Christos Mouzeviris

      Paul if you want to “feed the poor”, then allow them to prosper and have jobs, exploiting and managing their own resources by themselves, not have them stolen by large Western (American and European) corporations.. They do not need food that is grown in America or Europe to be fed.. Just to be allowed to prosper.. Stop the huge loan repayments that the West and other rich countries have imposed on them, and you will see miracles!!!!

  15. avatar
    catherine benning

    The EU should be banning farms that because of their ‘grotesque size’ are unable to farm humanely or healthily. The health of the animals we devour is imperative on every level as what we ingest is what we ourselves become.

    However, subsidies must be given to small or new farmers or those wanting to start, improve, or increase their organic potential to expand dramatically within Europe’s borders. Europe must discourage the importing of produce from outside its borders as control is not possible unless we can observe first hand what is taking place within the process of farm to plate. Centre on a policy that will advance the ability to produce our entire food requirement within European borders. This will reduce carbon damage and reverse the change to damage wild life we are seeing on a massive level.

    A couple of videos that explain the change.

    And Europe must do something and quickly to change the pattern of production in food supply.

    Animals in intensive farming are abused and feeding them to us is abuse of the human condition.

    Do you want to eat this? The reality of it is not something that should be hidden. Although confronting it is not easy.

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @Catherine Benning
      According to “Farm Sanctuary”, France produces and consumes about 75% of the world’s foie gras, involving 24 million ducks and a half a million geese every year. The United States and Canada use 500,000 birds per year in foie gras production.

      Its not just large farms that farm animals inhumanely, BARBARIC foie gras production in France is typically done by small French farms.

      The EU needs to stop all such practices NO MATTER the size of the farm.

  16. avatar
    Robert Negut

    Eliminating subsidies is definitely not the way to go, but these subsidies should first and foremost be directed towards farms that use environmentally-friendly practices, produce organic products and, of course, value animal welfare highly, offering a good life to their animals in case of those that use any. Farm size is secondary to this, but yes, if we get to it, sure, small ones should get (proportionally speaking) greater subsidies than larger ones. And at the same time those owned by individual farmers, families or communities should receive way more than those owned by corporations.

  17. avatar

    The CAP should not exist. Also, GM foods should be banned across the board and patenting seeds and all that should not be allowed.

    However, tariffs should be allowed. Better to produce food in your own country than to be dependent significantly on imports.

    I am also for confiscating all of Monsanto’s holdings. They’re a criminal organization anyway.

  18. avatar
    catherine benning

    The answer to cruel and unnecessary farming practice is to stop buying the product.

    In this video on Foie Gras we see many ‘European’ countries ban the practice.

    Then the practice of Halal and Kosher meat. produce another disgrace bought by governments and forced on our sick in hospital and those in our schools as well as hidden by our supermarkets who do not have to label the contents of their psychotic need for so called religion sanctioned food or cheapness of products. Civilised?

    And back to intensive farming, and the drive by the rich to get more tax payers money to subsidise their income, which this thread is all about.

  19. avatar
    Georgia Kioulia

    More money to smaller farms. It is a matter of quality not quantity. Mass production goods and their consumption results to low quality of life. You are what you comsume.

  20. avatar
    Paul X

    Christos I have to disagree
    Using CAP as a form of protectionism gives us the worst of both worlds, we are restricting ourselves to an internal market and having to pay for the for the privilege. I have no problem with people who disagree with GMO’s or who dislike the ever increasing American influence, but that is your beliefs not mine and I disagree with my money being used to support that view

    And stopping loan payments will change nothing. The money still won’t get to the people who need it most and there certainly wont be any miracles unless corrupt governments are removed

    • avatar
      Christos Mouzeviris

      How to remove corrupt governments without the meddling from the West, by the form of “aid”? The more we give aid, the more we support these corrupt governments and so the circle never ends.. The poorer countries are forced to take IMF loans, then they are crippled by the loan repayments.. They will have to pay back to the rich countries billions of euros, and so that means that their economies will never ever recover..How can anyone in his/her right mind can support such thing it is a wonder…

      It is not just a view or an ideology as you portray it, it is a fact.. GMOs are not good for our health or the environment and they should stay out of Europe for good. If we have to use CAP, or any other “CAP” to keep them out, then I am for that..

      Now you might have another beliefs and support the ever growing corporate greed and USA, but in your own words “but that is your beliefs not mine” and I disagree with my country’s natural resources, economy, people, culture and future being sold off for scraps to the markets for some corrupt gambling bankers or capitalists to make profit of…

  21. avatar
    Tarquin Farquhar

    @Christos Mouzeviris
    The CAP stops poor countries [like Kenya, Cambodia] from being able to FAIRLY compete in world agricultural markets. Let CAP help the poor EU nations [NOT the likes of France et al] to improve their farming sectors in readiness for global WTO competition BUT ultimately, drop CAP its a waste of my Northern EU money.

    Unfortunately, GMOs are here to stay BUT the EU could help against such FRANKENSTEIN FOODS viz.:

    Force all GMO food to be labelled – including a RADIOACTIVE-TYPE ‘beware/warning’ logo on all packaging or adverts.

    Force all GMO makers to add the biofluorescent gene to ALL GMO foods [flora or fauna] as a quick means of identification.

    If/when there is a major GMO incident the GMO maker should be fined a year’s revenue plus compensation and reparation costs and too its C-Suite staff should be jailed.

    If/when there is a minor GMO incident the GMO maker staff should have all their personal assets seized as a minimum.

    Introduce more stringent longer-duration GMO product acceptance testing – say 10-15 years thus making GMO products less likely to cause issues and less profitable due to extensive research costs.

  22. avatar
    catherine benning

    GMO foods are poisoning not only us but the natural world. anyone who believes this is the way to feed the world is deluded.

    Europe must never ever allow this horror to enter our food chain under any circumstances. Which is one of the most important reasons for us to stop importing any produce from outside our borders.

    There is no need to import food into Europe. It is detrimental to the planet on every level and tracing any poisoned becomes more difficult as it goes from one country to another.

    Not to mention it leaves us open to untold contamination.

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      And this one was written a few days ago. And not by a Monsanto bought writer who is desperate for a few bob


      And what is your interest? I find it extraordinary that your side of the political argument always comes from the rich and powerful angle. Are you another paid shill? Here to keep an eye on those who deviate from the chosen word?

  23. avatar
    Paul X

    I’m what’s called open minded. I don’t see any real evidence that GMO’s are harmful so I do not join in with the hysterical scaremongering that the subject seems to bring out in people. If there is evidence then I will happily admit I’m wrong, but there are millions already eating GM products who are not yet dropping like flies.

    • avatar
      Christos Mouzeviris

      The cancer and obesity epidemic are making obvious that what we eat is not good.. Industrialized, canned, fast food or anything like these are not healthy.. Now you will say how to feed the world with an increasing number of humans living on it? Well scrap the fast food industry and culture..We do not need to eat meat every day.. Promote vegetarianism (I eat meat myself, but in moderation not on daily basis) as an alternative diet.. End this corporate comodification of everything, from the water we drink, to the food we eat and soon ourselves…

  24. avatar
    Paul X

    Christos I agree that cancer and obesity are major issues today, though these are in no way specifically linked to GMO’s
    The rest of what you say is just a utopian pipe dream I’m afraid. The older generation (In which I include myself ) would love to go back to the time before internet, PC’s mobile phones etc and where people like my parents and grand parents had time to tend a garden growing vegetables. I can recall the majority of our vegetables were home grown and buying from a shop (not a supermarket as there weren’t any where I lived) was the exception not the rule
    Unfortunately to the younger generation this concept is totally alien and I expect some people haven’t even seen a vegetable with dirt on. There is no doubting that these days the pace of life is faster and “fast food” has become an evil necessity to maintain the pace and the more the generations progress the more real food becomes a distant memory and probably something kids will laugh about when it is written in the history (e-)books of the future “did people really eat that…. !”
    The only way I see it happenng is if some natural disaster befalls the planet and we have to start at the beginning again

    • avatar
      Christos Mouzeviris

      Well if we continue like that it will happen, and the cause will be us.. I did not say that GMOs are to be blamed for obesity and cancer exclusively, rather the whole practice of commodifying food with all the preservatives, additives, colors, flavoring and God knows what else goes into our food and drink… If we add the GMOs, which we do not have clear evidence of their impact on our health then one can only guess what will happen to us..You are what you eat after all!!!
      Anyway, I know that what I said was utopia, but I was just stating what in reality would be the solution for solving the problem of “feeding the world”. Obviously that is in no one’s agenda, as that will mean to drastic change of behavior towards fast food, a habit that was developed with a great amount of money being poured into its advertisement to spread all over the world…So these companies will fight back, and there is also the issue of unemployment, that since we will e reducing the numbers of these food chains, people will be losing their jobs..And no politician wants such headache to deal with…

  25. avatar
    Tamzin Jans

    I’m for smaller local farms. The big farms seem to be killing farming as we knew it for centuries.

  26. avatar
    Larry Longtel

    The CAP favours the French economy and should be immediately abolished.
    I await the approval of the EU’s accounts before I accept anything the EU pontificate upon and before I agree that the UK should pay ANYTHING towards its upkeep. Basically the EU is a fraud upon all the people of the EU.

    • avatar

      Forget it, France is in the EU only for benefits to itself. It does not care one jot about other countries.

      In fact, the reason France wants to rush to common/shared debts and liabilities is because it is #1 in unfunded contingent liabilities and wants Germany to fund its future pensions.

  27. avatar
    George Yiannitsiotis, PhD

    Supsidising big farms leads to more expensive, less qualitative products. Besides, it hits small farmers, especially living in least favoured areas (LFA’s). Therefore, it shall be suspended.

  28. avatar

    If we really want to have CAP in practice and to live the CAP than the smaller farm and farmers should be seriously taken into consideration. Small/family farming is the kernel of European agriculture.I am not talking about going back to past, but I am talking, as an expert of agriculture, about tradition, heritage, bottom-up approach, knowledge at doorstep etc.etc. There is enough place for everyone in European continent and that’s consider small farmers too.They do pay tax and fees, they do feed their families.

  29. avatar
    Mary Adams

    I don’t understand why the EU purse-keepers can’t give each member country a total budget and let that country decide how to spend it. France would continue to give priority to farmers, for example, while other countries could choose to subsidise other industries. Why is so much time and expense used up by EU bureaucrats making ‘one size fits all’ decisions that could so much more satisfactorily and fairly be decided by each country for itself?

  30. avatar

    yes, the EU should stop subsidizing the queen of England (o yes, she receives from the agricultural funds and yes that is totally ridiculous).

    EU should look at what level of agriculture is needed to feed the people of Europe in case of a calamity and protect that. This DOES NOT mean protecting inefficient peasant farming to ‘protect landscapes’ and certain ways of life!, why should EUropeans be forced to pay more for their food so that French farmers can keep on working in old fashioned inefficient ways, it amount to theft…

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