Review of the 'two pillars' of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) .

View of the Earth's atmosphere from space

Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) discussions have been hotting up to sizzling point this year, and with CAP reform due on 1 January 2014, it’s no wonder.

The Common Agricultural Policy (or the CAP, as it is more affectionately, or not, referred) is the EU’s single largest common policy, and accounts for over 40% of the entire EU budget. In one way or another the decisions that are made on 1 January 2014 will affect us all. So get listening.

The CAP as it currently stands comprises of two pillars. The first pillar finances direct subsidy payments to support farmers, and deals with market aspects. The second pillar is intended for ‘rural development measures’, including the provision of public goods. Just think of them as two separate piles of EU cash!

With these two distinct pillars in mind, it seems that recent discussion is leading to a blurring of the lines between these two separate funds. Suggestions from Europe are that funds may be transferred between the two pillars in some member states under the new reforms. This blurring is certain to make some farmers and environmentalists feel a little queasy. Essentially this is taking money away from environmental services and rural development and putting it straight back into direct subsidies, making the provision of these public goods clearly optional (!). The problem is that EU ministers are attempting to shoehorn some pretty big changes (that please everyone marginally, and no-one fully) into the existing two pillars, and unsurprisingly, finding that they don’t quite fit!

I shall explain. There are two sides to this. People feel safe within the old CAP, they like it, they understand it: and this was reflected in a report from the European Commission summarising results of a public debate on the subject, “A large number of correspondents argue for the current direction of the CAP to be maintained with relatively minor alterations”.

On the other hand, the European commission made it quite clear from the outset that the CAP needed significant reform to take into account ‘new Europe’ with its 27 member states (and with it huge diversity in wealth and agriculture) and the increasing need to reward farmers for good environmental stewardship (these initial noises were music to the ears of environmentalists). So on the one hand farmers want a relatively unchanged CAP and on the other hand environmentalists are excited at the prospect of incorporating environmental services into farming policy.  Sustainable intensification has become the adopted policy phrase uniting these two aspects (see previous blog post).

However it seems ridiculous that in the face of such reform, the two pillars remain steadfast, especially as all that they stand for is being gradually corroded away! Two pillars are fooling no-one. They are imaginary.


And someone is going to get their heart broken.


  • Sarah Giles

    Sarah Giles