By Lines, T., 2010

The first major reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) were agreed in 1992 in parallel with the trade negotiations that led to the World Trade Organisation (WTO)’s creation in 1995. Their purpose was to reduce agricultural surpluses and stockpiles and to open up the European Union’s agriculture to world markets. Under successive waves of reform, the previous system of intervention prices and product-specific (or ‘coupled’) subsidies was gradually replaced by direct payments to farmers. Under the last set of reforms in 2003, the administration and even certain choices of policy were devolved to the Member States. This was not done for reasons of principle but largely because no consensus was reached during the reform negotiations; and it played into the hands of those who would weaken or even dismantle agricultural policy altogether. Moreover, the 12 new Members admitted since 2003 do not yet have access to the full range of agricultural policies. In particular, small farmers there (as elsewhere) receive very little from the CAP. There is therefore considerable variety now among the measures actually used by the 27 members, leading to a fragmentation of this area of EU policy. The policy reform of 2003 was meant to cover a period of ten years. The CAP’s budget was frozen until 2013, by which time further reforms to the CAP were to be decided, as well as a new Multi-annual Financial Framework (the EU budget framework for 2014-20, sometimes called the ‘Financial Perspectives’). It was also expected that new global rules for agricultural trade would be in place, after the completion of the WTO’s Doha Round of negotiations. That outcome is now far from certain, but preparations have continued for changes in the CAP. The first of these was a set of proposals from the European Commission, called a ‘Health Check’, which led to a political deal among Member States in November 2008. More recently there has been a public consultation, which closed with a conference in Brussels in July 2010.