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:
I 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).
There 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.