Farmers represent roughly 3% of the EU’s population. Yet the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) accounts for 39% of the EU’s total budget. Does it make sense, in times of economic hardship, for Europe’s taxpayers to hand over €58 billion in subsidies to a tiny minority of people?

The CAP was founded in the post-WWII era, when much of Europe experienced severe food shortages and rationing. Food security was of central importance, and by the 1980s the CAP represented over 70% of the EU (then-EEC) budget. Critics pointed to so-called “butter mountains” and “wine lakes”, caused by quotas and other market controls, as indicative of inefficiency and waste.

Want to know more about the reasons in favour and against the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy? Check out our Infobox on Arguments For and Against the Common Agricultural Policy!

Since its creation, the CAP has been through a series of reforms (the most recent in 2013). However, judging from the comments we’ve received about the CAP, it is still viewed with a great deal of suspicion. For example, we had a comment from Peter, wondering if anybody could justify the continued existence of agricultural subsidies in today’s economy:

Image of a citizenIs there anyone in Europe who can give a good reason to keep the Common Agricultural Policy when it costs 45% of the EU budget but only employs 5% of the population and generates only 1.6% of the EU GDP?

To get a response, we spoke to Sophia Davidova, Professor of European Agricultural Policy at the University of Kent’s School of Economics. How would she respond to Peter?

davidovaAgriculture is a very specific sector, and that’s why all developed countries, and many developing countries, protect and support it. First of all, agricultural prices are very volatile… This means that farmer’s revenues go up and down frequently, while they incur costs that are more or less constant, such as labour, machinery, seeds, and so forth.

The second thing is that farmers maintain our countryside, they maintain beautiful landscapes, and they provide many more benefits than directly measuring agricultural output as a contribution to GDP. All the landscape around countryside villages, the beautiful forests, and so on, everything is maintained by farmers. This can, for example, attract tourism, which contributes to GDP but isn’t directly linked to the agricultural sector. So, these are two of the reasons we spend money on agricultural policy and farmers.

For another perspective, we also spoke to Ana Rocha, European Affairs Advisor at the European Landowners Organization (ELO). What would she say?

rochaIt is true that the agricultural sector doesn’t employ a lot of people in farming directly, and actually the number of farmers is decreasing. But if you consider the agri-food chain as a whole, then it represents 46% of all employees in the EU.

It is also true that agriculture contributes 1.7% of GDP, but we spend less than 1% of total public expenditure on the Common Agricultural Policy. Plus, not only for food, but also for land management in the 47% of the European territory.

Is the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy a waste of money? Or does the CAP provide food security, and help to maintain the unique rural European landscape and way of life? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

35 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Sebastien Chopin

    Without the CAP… there wouldn’t be agriculture in Europe anymore… it would have been outsourced… or managed directly and completely by multinational companies… and even with the CAP, that is barely avoided…
    Thats why the blokes go on strike every other month…
    Might be better to choose another sector… coupling computing and economics seems wiser…

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @Sebastien Chopin

      The CAP has outsourced UK fish to other foreign EU countries already!

      Without CAP, indeed without the EU – I am sure that many EU countries would like to produce their own food – for both employment and too security reasons.

      PS: Who are the strike-prone ‘blokes’ you refer to?

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @Joao Antonio Camoes
      Please kindly elucidate one and all re the countries of which you intimate require the CAP for EU membership.


  2. avatar
    Tarquin Farquhar


    The EU CAP has killed millions upon millions of primarily black people because of its disgraceful protectionist nature; remember EU wine lakes and EU food mountains that prevented poor countries from being able to compete fairly in the world’s food markets?

    The EU CAP has allowed poor quality food and or drink (e.g. champagne with c20% of its host acreage adulterated with actual French household rubbish) to be ‘protected’ against competition.

    The EU CAP has allowed Club Med farmers [and some ex-communist ones too] to fleece the EU public of billions of pounds due to systemic, endemic almost-genetic corruption.

    When you add the CFP which costs the UK anywhere between £3b-£6b p.a. then the unfairness/squalidness of both means they should be scrapped.

  3. avatar
    Nando Aidos

    It needs to be seriously revised since it promotes waste and stagnation in some countries to the benefit of others.

  4. avatar
    Paul X

    CAP was instigated by France, mostly benefits France and is impossible to reform because of France. It is another example along with the Strasbourg/Brussels traveling circus where French self interests are costing the European taxpayers billions.

    When the UK leaves the EU we will be free to import good quality agriculture products from the rest of the world at reasonable prices instead of paying over the odds to keep militant French farmers in wine and Gauloises

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      @ Paul X.

      Let’s make sure the British farmer and food producers are able to feed us all without essential imports. Because, you are wrongly believing that to import GM produced food is in our best interests as it is cheap and poison.

      Don’t be so naive. American imports, which is the TTIP idea behind this question, is inferior and filled with lies about its effects on the human race and environment. Our own British farmers and breeders of animals must be banned from farming any other way than by removing pesticides, chemicals, hormones, antibiotics and any other unhealthy method of production. Imports are suspect as the corruption is rife. At home we can inspect and demand. From outside, all we can do is test on import. And that is expensive in the extreme as well as impossible to keep a tab on. Look how we are flooded with Halal meats we didn’t even know about and even now we do know is not banned as it is cheaper. So our children in schools, our hospitals and our takeaways are full of this evil produce.

      Use your nut.

    • avatar
      Paul X

      Catherine, please learn the basics of reading

      Note, the use of the words “good quality” , nowhere do I refer to GM, the two are not and never will be related…. except by you it seems in trying to create an argument…now nut off

  5. avatar

    It needs to be seriously revised since it promotes waste and stagnation in some countries to the benefit of others.

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      @ Paul X

      Please take note that waffling is unacceptable as a reply. What you want is to continue to get cheap food from outside the UK and the EU whilst our own farmers are run out of business. Are you a supermarket board member. Force the prices down to third world standards and shove your cash off shore as a result of the excess you take on board.

      You cannot check quality from outside of the UK, the cost would be extraordinay and corruption rife. We need to grow at home and inspect it is not contaminated here. The way it once was carried out.


      And as a side bar, the government is telling us dementia is on the rise to the point of an epidemic. I wonder how that is? Could it be contaminated meat that is covered up by those who are our leaders? No of course not.




      And how our PM loves Halal


    • avatar
      Paul X

      Catherine i can assure you I am not connected with any supermarket

      A similarly unfounded (but deserved) accusation at you would be that you are clearly a politician because you like nothing more than putting your own spin on what people say

      For your clarification “Good quality” does not mean GM and “reasonably priced” does not mean cheap

      We currently get average to poor quality highly subsidised produce from the EU which prices other suppliers out of the market. It is down to us as consumers that decide on the quality of goods, if we are prepared to pay a bit more for good quality than that is what retailers will stock but currently they focus 99% on price so the shelves are full of subsidised cr@p

      Buying British, while noble in intention is still no guarantee of quality. Many are equally guilty of intensive methods and taking CAP subsidies and clearly there are some things which cannot be produced in the UK and we should be able to source these from a free market

  6. avatar
    Radu Holenda

    Romania gave food to all Europe during WW1 and WW2 . You (EU) destroyed our agriculture sistematic and obliged us to buy at a higher price from western Europe meanwhile our agriculture is killed day by day. THIS IS THE ANSWER WHY ROMANIANS COME TO WORK IN WESTERN EUROPE !!!! The end is near of the E.U. and everything will get back as it was. At least i hope. This is not democracy, this is worst than comunism

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @Radu Holenda
      I think your last dictator played a part in the demise of Romanian agriculture too, don’t you?

    • avatar

      British farmers were pouring milk down drains (now they feed it to calves, apparently) and this is utterly wrong. Britain can be self sufficient in milk and does not need to import it – so we should not be. Why drink French milk?

    • avatar

      Suggest you leave the EU – along with everyone else. We would all be much better off (except the eurocrats, of course!)

  7. avatar
    Valentin Rotaru

    If agriculture means eating plastic food from Belgium then yes, the EU common agricultural policy IS another waste of money.

  8. avatar
    Jean-Pierre Rosa

    Yes it is. Huge waste. The EU cannot compete with india and china’s production without huge subsidies on top of very dated methods of production. Invest in technology, provide for farmers to retrain or retire; its cheaper than this scam.

  9. avatar
    Παυλος Χαραλαμπους

    Actually the agricultural policies of eu destroyed most of the production of countries like Greece.. For God sakes they used to pay money to farmers to DESTROY THEIR PRODUCTS because they were”overproductive ”!!!!and now farmers are to be blamed for everything? What about those idiots in Brussels?

  10. avatar
    Derya Yüksek

    nothing to add to the comment just above… this is how CAP is in practice with a simple example: Italians destroy their “over-produced” oranges and sell oranges imported from Netherlands(!?) at the supermarkets. this is CAP

  11. avatar
    Rosy Forlenza

    I think it needs to be re- thought. I t should concentrate on maintaining quality production instead of paying people not to produce and then insisting on importing the same produce from elsewhere. So I would like to see Greece, southern italy, portugal and so on encouraged to produce quality wine, olives, olive oil, oranges, lemons, use it or we lose those skills, i’d rather eat a lemon grown in the ground than one grown under cover in some god awful petrie dish, ditto with tomatoes, ditto with olive oil.

  12. avatar
    Stefania Portici

    con la liberalizzazione del mercato il prezzo è basso e se non ci fosse la PAC la campagna finirebbe di esistere. Diciamo che il denaro che arriva dalla PAC non è la UE a regalarli ma sono denaro dei Paesi , per cui la UE non da niente. La UE dopo aver drenato soldi agli agricoltori e ai lavoratori, li restituisce con la PAC ma dietro regole infinite che nessuno conosce , impossibile conoscerle tutte perchè cambiano continuamente e sono tante, troppe . Controlli su controlli ( fai spese , contollano, e poi non paga perchè non in regola, rimessione ,contadino chiude ) e multe su multe , gli agricoltori vendono alle multinazionali. Non si aiuta il contadino in questo modo la UE lo sta distruggendo

  13. avatar
    Hector Niehues-Jeuffroy

    The agricultural policy of the EU is one of the most important reasons why Sub-Saharan Africa is as poor as it is today. Normally, developing countries have a large labour force, low capital and could grow crops at a fraction of the cost compared to Europe. They would then export them to developed countries and use the proceeds to mechanize their agriculture and invest into industrial production. To be precise, this is exactly the development path of China in the late 1970s and early 1980s. However, since agricultural products from the EU are highly subsidized, the EU – without having any comparative advantage in agriculture – dumps its cheapened agricultural products on developing countries’ markets. Moreover, thanks to various trade treaties, developing countries cannot impose tariffs or quotas on European agricultural products in order to countermand European subsidization.
    I am 100% sure that we can find more sustainable ways to spend the money, e.g. on infrastructure, education or research (or simply cut taxes).

  14. avatar
    Vinko Rajic

    EU farmers should sell electricity , EU farmers should not only receive money for nothing . Farmers have space available , tools , machines and free time . They could install solar panels , have extra income and help the EU to switch to green power . 100% solar, wind and hydro is very cheap and clean option for the EU. Price for solar panels is under 0,5 Euro/Watt . EU could simple order 2000 gigawatt solar panels for 1000 billion Euro . EU should give for free 10 to 50 kW of solar panels to all EU citizens ( 10 – 500 kW to farmers) willing to install it by themselves . They should pay off those panels with electricity they don’t use also with electricity they send back to the grid. To install it like this is simple and cheap , it is like IKEA furniture : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dzar3xqCb6k

    • avatar

      I don’t want solar panels all over England’s green fields – it is also stupid as this is frequently high quality agricultural land which we need to use to feed ourselves. On the other hand solar panels on roofs in towns (not on listed buildings nor in conservation areas) is a good idea, especially on factory roofs.

  15. avatar
    Mustafa Cezar

    With no CAP, European farming product would be supplied from cheaper countries, like Ukraine, Turkey etc. just like all the heavy industry moved to China, Turkey, Taiwan. However, it doesn’t look like this fund is managed well as Spain, Greece, France, Italy have to waste the good quality over produced products and have to import low quality products from other members.

  16. avatar

    Absolutely brilliant, I am sure surgeon and screecher eagle have swayed the public to leave the Eu. Well done.

  17. avatar
    EU reform- proactive

    Headlines: Should Europe scrap the CAP? A: Scrap the EU first- than reform CAP.

    Present confused titles: “European Agricultural Policy” (EAP) shouldn’t it be EUAP? “European Landowners Organization” (ELO) shouldn’t it be EULO- misleading titles- or?

    One can safely assume that EUROPE has enough “professors” & think tanks that could design FAIR but alternative models – (“comparative agricultural advantage”)-


    instead sticking to “old fashioned” political €58 billion EU Agric-subsidies. Probably soon to change to a smaller “European Agric Assistance Fund” (EAAF)- reserved to maintain the basics of food security & the most essential farmers.

    No more subsidies for extravaganzas like wine, spirits. The relaxation & art of driving a tractor, to plough & harvest could maybe become a new, lucrative & healthy tourist attraction- instead of going to a gym?

    Surely, the “biggest slice” of the subsidy pie should be removed from the corporate mega-farms and vast agro-industrial conglomerates- including Queen Elizabeth’s farming enterprise.

    All technical details need to be negotiated by qualified farming professionals; think tanks & specialists from countries who willingly participate in a future repackaged “European Agric Preservation & Trade Policy of the newly formed EEC- known as former EU!

  18. avatar
    Noia Blackcat

    the UE’s agricultural policy is destroying all the local cultures and resources in terms of agriculture… for example they gave permission to trade Tunisian olive oil inside the union over OUR products (Italian, Greek and Spanish best olive oil in the world)… they want us to cut our healthy olive trees because ‘xylella MAY spread’… they want to make cheese with powders and not with milk… what are we talking about? EU is strangling little farmers and entire country’s economy.

  19. avatar
    Gyorgy Gajdos

    Some reduction of subsidies is necessary, because it’s just unsustainable. Little farmers are strangled that is true, but that is because such is the economy everywhere in the world that small and low productivity companies are dying out. We need large companies witch good capital because those are competitive. Small companies are just not competitive. We could use that money much better on wind turbines, sea-powered generator, European GPS system etc.

  20. avatar
    Pablo II

    I think people from every country in the world have very similar fears for their future. . Food production, economic growth, employment, climate change, environmental sostenibility, migration, peace. We are all interconected and we have to think on a global scale.

    CAP prevents less developed countries primary economies to grow. Then lack of opportunities will Foster migration into the welthiest EU countries. I am against import tariffs. I would always consume locally even if imported food is cheaper. I guess there must be more people like me in Europe, so there will always be a market for our european products. Maybe we can no compete with raw, unprocessed products in the global market but we do have singular products with very high added value because they are unique and have a high quality standard. The key thing is to let people be informed and decide.

    I am against public intervention in any market, also agricultural market. EU policy makers should only establish a regulatory frame to garantee food safety, to protect environment from GMO, pesticides, herbicides, erosion, misuse of wáter, deforestation, etc, to garantee truthful information to the consumer (what is a product made for, how is it made, where does it come from). Markets will develop and respond to what people ask for. There will be consumers who demand the cheapest posible products, but others will demand quality products, and many will consume locally if properly informed of the good revenues of doing so : environmentally friendly, preserving landscapes, boosting your own community economy…

    without agricultural subsidies it is quite posible that land prices will go down, so Young people will have an opportunity to join the sector, with new and fresh ideas to innovate and find new ways. Now it is a closed sector, and it is very difficult for anyone to join agriculture if you are not heir of farmers.

    Taxpayers are subsidizing a CAP which some of us don’t like. We pay money for the CAP and then we have more expensive food!. Plus, all that money is not fairly distributed: most of it goes to big players in the agro sector, and not to the small farmers who supposedly mantain beautiful landscapes. I say supposedly because that is not always the case.

    To put it brief: Policy makers should set rules for the activity, but let people play without interfering, without transferring money one way or another.

  21. avatar

    It’s thanks to the CAP that we can sustain high quality food. Once farmers go, you never get them back, you get combines.

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