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Food and society

CAP: Europe unites for the benefit of agriculture

Over half a century old and nearly €60bn invested every year: these are just two of the headline figures on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), a commitment which highlights the importance of the agro-food system in the European Community.

Agriculture is a key sector for the sustainable development of a country’s economy. The member states of the European Community (EC) were well aware of this back in 1962, when they set down the rules and objectives of a Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which then formed the basis of Title III of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. They explain that “while helping farmers with economic support and market rules, the Common Agricultural Policy also ensures sustainable development of rural areas in accordance with the requirements of each country in the Union .” 

A little bit of history

The idea of combining European forces to support agriculture emerged in Europe just after the Second World War, when the old continent was left to take stock of the consequences of the conflict, including a shortage of food. In June 1960, the European Commission released a document for structuring a Common Agricultural Policy involving the six founding members of the EC: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. But it took another two years until the official arrival of the CAP in 1962, when the Council of the European Union gave the go-ahead for the creation of common commercial organisations, introducing rules for competitiveness and setting up a special economic fund. Since then, the Common Agricultural Policy has allowed constantly updated measures and laws to be implemented for the effective regulation of the continent’s agricultural production. 


The foundations of the CAP

Although the general principles have not changed over the years, the current objectives of the CAP are inevitably different from those set out when it was first created. Indeed, the main goal of the Common Agricultural Policy is now to guarantee European citizens a stable supply of safe food produced in a sustainable way, while also ensuring a decent standard of living for farmers and other workers in the agricultural sector. The CAP also provides guidelines and sets the rules to follow to ensure that European agriculture continues to be sustainable and competitive, with a particular focus on the three main channels of investment of the common funds: economic support for farmers, based on market trends and also connected to sustainability criteria; market measures aimed at limiting the effects of vulnerability connected to external factors such as climatic conditions or price volatility; and programmes for rural development in order to work in a specific and targeted way with each of the 28 countries of the Union. 


A constantly evolving document

The set of rules contained in the CAP cannot remain unchanged over time: indeed since the year of its creation, the economic, social and environmental conditions in Europe and around the world have changed significantly, thus altering the requirements and priorities of the agro-food sector. In order to tackle and manage these changes as best as possible, the CAP has undergone continual revisions, the most important of which came in 1999, 2003 and 2013 which modernised the original document into its current form. However, even this version, which sets out investments for the 2014-2020 period, is not sufficient to overcome the most recent challenges such as climate change. As part of a continual process of updates and simplification, in February 2017, the EU launched a consultation to establish the best strategies, including the CAP, to achieve the 10 priorities of the European Community and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The results of the consultation will be presented in Brussels on 7 July 2017. 


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