Thursday

30th Mar 2017

Visual Data

EU farming policy: The damage done by 20 years of inertia

  • A long-term review of agricultural data in Europe shows that the problems identified in the 1990s have not been solved. (Photo: Camilo Rueda López)

The EU has long understood that the common agricultural policy (CAP) needs to become fairer and greener. Despite progress in some areas, the data shows that the problems of the 1990s have not gone away.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

View the presentation in full screen.

The CAP, which oversees subsidies to farmers in Europe, is a complex bureaucracy favouring large businesses over small farmers, pushing them towards intensive farming practices that harm the environment and lead to unemployment.

Such criticism does not come from green activists.

It was printed almost word for word in brochures of the European Commission in 1998, in preparation for a reform of the CAP. The reform was enacted in 1999.

Less than 15 years later, in 2013, the same problems were addressed in yet another reform. The talk was to make the CAP “greener” and provide more support to small farmers.

A long-term review of agricultural data in Europe shows that the problems identified in the 1990s have not been solved. They were even made worse in the countries that joined the European Union after 2004.

Since 2000, cereal production in the European Union increased from 200 to 300 million tons per year. At the same time, the production of fruits and vegetables decreased, from 100 to 85 million tons per year, even though the European Union itself expanded from 15 to 28 countries.

One reason for this evolution lies in the way the subsidies are given out by the European Commission.

Before the 1999 reform, subsidies were given by volume. The more farmers produced, the more subsidies they received.

After the reforms, most subsidies (so-called “direct subsidies”) were given by hectare: the larger the farm, the larger the subsidies. This, along with other factors like the demand for biofuels and increased meat production, pushed farmers towards crops that require large fields, like cereals and oilseeds.

While the total area under cultivation in the European Union barely increased between 2005 and 2013, the average size of each farm increased from 12 to 16 hectares. Some countries saw much larger increases.

These averages hide the dominance of extremely large farms.

Of the 10 million farms active in the European Union in 2013, the vast majority were extremely small.

In most countries, farms larger than 100 hectares control most of the land and, with the exception of Austria, their share has grown in recent years.

The CAP is not the only reason for these changes, but the policy provides more benefits to large farms growing cash crops than to smaller ones.

The European Commission correctly points to the fact that programmes are in place to support small farmers but it fails to see that the complexity of the procedures de facto prevents small farmers from understanding what they can claim and receiving money.

Cash crops, such as cereals and oilseeds (sunflower, rapeseed), require high investments in capital, large fields and little manual labour. At the opposite end, vegetables and fruits require intensive human care to grow and harvest.

The drive to grow cash crops accompanied a dramatic reduction in employment in agriculture.

Since 2000, the total employment in farms across the European Union decreased by 6 million full-time equivalents. All of the decrease was borne by non-salaried farmers, such as seasonal workers.

As the production of fruit and vegetables decreased in the European Union, imports grew substantially.

Imports of fruit and vegetables more than doubled in value, from €10 billion in 2000 to €23 billion in 2015. (Imports of cereals increased too, but imports represent a much smaller share of European consumption relative to homegrown cereals).

Imports of fruit and vegetables from Chile and Morocco have almost doubled in volume since 2000.

The bulk of the fruit and vegetables are transported by lorries or cargo ships. Still, 200,000 tons were flown to the European Union in 2015. So much for the environment.

The problems of the CAP in 2017 were already there in 1997.

In two decades, member states and European institutions failed to provide a framework that supports small farmers and an environmentally responsible agriculture. Instead, the CAP still encourages large farms to produce as much as possible while employing as few people as possible.

The last reform entered into force only in 2015 but many expect a new reform in 2020.

Unsurprisingly, the European Parliament’s agriculture committee insists that the next reform should help small farmers and protect the environment.

The Commission could not provide us with a reaction before we published this article.

EU farming crisis to stay 'for some time'

Agriculture commissioner due to present package of relief measures next week but said he's "constrained" by financial resources and by EU legislation.

Food price spike to hit EU farming review

EU farm ministers are meeting in Brussels today for an emergency debate on the sharp rise in food and agriculture product prices on global markets, just a day before the European Commission unveils proposals for a review of the bloc's agrosector.

Commission stops German-British stock merger

The decision to block the merger of the London Stock Exchange and Deutsche Boerse was expected, as negotiations between the parties broke down a few weeks ago.

SMEs lack support in EU financial plan

The European Commission's plan for a capital markets union is said to be aimed at small and medium-sized enterprises, but many could end up being left out in the cold.

Stolen Russian billions ended up in EU states

Illicit money flowing out of Russia ended up in almost every single EU state, an investigation has found, posing questions on the integrity of Europe’s banking systems.

News in Brief

  1. UK publishes 'Great Repeal Bill' plan to replace EU laws
  2. Scots share May's vision for Brexit deal, survey says
  3. Coalition talks leader expects Dutch government by summer
  4. EU commission allows ex-member Hill to join law firm
  5. Reuters: Greece and lenders move closer to deal
  6. Italy: Le Pen win would mean 'permanent political risk'
  7. Danish parliament misinformed on Nord Stream 1
  8. UK delivered its Article 50 letter to the EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  2. The Idealist QuarterlyCan Progressive Stories Survive Our Post-Truth Era? After-Work Discussion on 6 April
  3. ACCAG20 Citizens Want 'Big Picture' Tax Policymaking, According to Global Survey
  4. Belgrade Security ForumCall for Papers: European Union as a Global Crisis Manager - Deadline 30 April
  5. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  6. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved
  7. European Jewish Congress"Extremists Still Have Ability and Motivation to Murder in Europe" Says EJC President
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Ads
  9. ILGA-EuropeTime for a Reality Check on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  10. UNICEFHuman Cost to Refugee and Migrant Children Mounts Up One Year After EU-Turkey Deal
  11. Malta EU 2017Council Adopts New Rules to Improve Safety of Medical Devices
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Research: How to Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy

Latest News

  1. Hungary attempts to stifle Soros-founded university in Budapest
  2. European right shows divisions on EU values after Brexit
  3. Transparency is key EU tactic in Brexit talks
  4. Russia building 'arc of iron' around Europe
  5. Französische und deutsche Wahlen 'entscheidend' für Putin
  6. EU trying to salvage US deal on data privacy
  7. MEPs draw 'red lines' on Brexit deal
  8. MEPs call for reset in relations with Belarus

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Party of European SocialistsWe Must Renew Europe for All Europeans
  2. MEP Tomáš ZdechovskýThe European Commission Has Failed in Its Fight Against Food Waste
  3. ILGA-EuropeEP Recognises Discrimination Faced by Trans & Intersex People
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers25 Nordic Bioeconomy Cases for Sustainable Change
  5. European Free AllianceSupporting Artur Mas: Democracy and Freedom Cannot Be Convicted
  6. UNICEFSyria Conflict 6 Years On: Children's Suffering at Its Worst
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsDomestic Violence in Tajikistan: Time to Right the Wrongs
  8. European Trust SummitCorporate Strategy and Public Affairs in a Low-Trust World - Conference 31 May
  9. Malta EU 2017Agreement Reached to Involve Consumers in Financial Services Policymaking
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cities Gather Against Violent Extremism & Introduce Nordic Safe Cities
  11. World VisionFears and Dreams of Syria's Children and Their Peers Around the World
  12. Mission of China to the EUEU Window Chinese Government Academic Scholarship 2017/18 - Apply Now