The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the European Union, is based on the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFUE),  and was instituted decades ago because the founding six Member States of the UE used heavy state interventions in the agriculture sectorSince then, it has always represented the largest share of the EU budget.

These interventions, if left to the national level, were considered as a possible source of interference with the common market and its application to agricultural products. Therefore in 1962 Member States chose to centralise this competence at European level.

The CAP measures were originally devised as market support measures but, as the productivity of the farms increased, eventually exceeding market requests, they shifted to producer support (paired with measures used to bring productivity level to the requests of the market.

Since 2013, the CAP has been organised in a 7-year program, based on two pillars:

  • the first and wealthier, divided in common organization of the market (CMO) and in direct payments to farmers. It represents the ‘conventional’ farming systems.
  • the second one about rural development policy, including organic farming and minor measures about animal welfare.

The objectives of the CAP are both economic and social and have remained almost the same since their introduction in 1958. So far the  CAP  failed to internalise several EU key policies such as biodiversity conservation, animal protection and climate targets and  yet it does not seem ready to reflect the Green transition trends promoted by the European Commission.

The CAP has historically been the major expenditure for the EU: even if its share of the budget has shrinked from over the 70% in 1980 to almost the 40% in 2018, it remains the largest of the Union, with a projected expenditure of more than EUR 58 billion in 2020 (34,5% of the 2020 EU budget). Direct payments account for more than EUR 40 billions of  the total 58.

In the last 50 years, the  several reforms of the CAP system, which were proposed and undertaken, attempted to address some of the issues surrounding its policies and implementation.

Still many criticisms remain unanswered, and the shortcomings appear increasingly relevant, given the huge amount of funding mobilised by the CAP.

The implementation of the CAP policies seems incoherent from several standpoints, such as:

  • the   great share of direct payments : although apparently coherent  with the objective of  “ensuring a fair standard of living for the agricultural community” ( art 39.b) ), has been heavily criticized because of being  largely associated with the objective of ‘ increasing  agricultural productivity”.
  • the stabilization of  the markets (objective c. of article 39), requiring a reduction in price fluctuations, has been implemented through mechanisms aimed at maintaining  higher prices, thus ensuring a support to farmers income, but in contrast with objective of ‘ ensuring that supplies reach consumers at reasonable prices”  (objective e) and ‘ assuring the availability of supplies’.

Furthermore, the different CAP objectives are often incoherent among each other and therefore difficult to achieve.Particularly relevant, nowadays, are issues related to climate change and the respect of the sentient nature of the animals addressed by article 13 of the TFUE.

The CAP could play significant impacts on climate policies.  The current agriculture system is  among the most relevant contributor to climate change, especially in relation with livestock husbandry. According to FAO, the  EU livestock husbandry industry is responsible for the 14,5% of the total GHG emissions.

The several CAP reforms have been trying to address these issues, for example in 2013 when introducing  a  climate action in the  CAP general objectives, or through the implementation of the Green Direct Payment. This is part of the direct payment budget, actually representing the 30% of CAP budget, and is granted for implementing three compulsory practices, namely crop diversification, ecological focus areas and permanent grassland. Nevertheless, criticisms to the CAP, related to its ability to efficiently tackle climate issues in its implementation and the coherence of its different objectives, both explicit and implicit, continue to cast a dark shadow over the policy with the biggest share of EU budget. An evaluation support study commissioned by the European Union, in 2019, notes that the CAP: “does not provide Member States with the tools they would need to require farmers to reduce the two most significant categories of emissions (enteric emissions and emissions of N2O from soil management)”.

Animal welfare, instead, finds its cornerstone, as aforementioned, in article 13 of the TFEU, which states that: “In formulating and implementing the Union’s agriculture, fisheries, transport, internal market, research and technological development and space policies, the Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.” It important noting  that, even with the full recognition of the sentience of non-human animals, article 13 is based on a balance between different interests, namely the “welfare requirements of animals” and the respect of “legislative and administrative provisions and customs of Member States”, implying that these regulate activities that are objectively detrimental to animal welfare itself. And yet, even when European rules regarding animal welfare are in place, they often result infringed. The European Union itself recognizes the problem: a special report by the European Court of Auditors, in 2018, clearly stated that: “the financial resources of the CAP could be better used to promote higher animal welfare standards.” It is also important recalling that when speaking of “higher” animal welfare standards, the Court means the already mandatory standards, that are not met by European farmers. In particular, the report notes that: “weaknesses still persisted in some areas related to welfare issues on the farm (in particular, the routine tail docking of pigs), during transport (compliance with rules on long distance transport and the transport of unfit animals) and at slaughter (use of the derogation for slaughter without stunning and inadequate stunning procedures).” It also states that: “The objective of promoting animal welfare is a rural development priority for the 2014-2020 period and we found good examples of actions beneficial for animals in the Member States visited. However, the “Animal Welfare” measure was not widely used. There were certain weaknesses in the cost-effectiveness of the measure and Member States rarely used the opportunity to support animal welfare through other rural development measures.” These “weaknesses” means horrible differences for animals all over Europeoften in contrast with existing EU laws.

Because of these examined unsolved  issues related to climate action and animal welfare, important reforms  have been requested by different stakeholders. Many are asking for conditionalities provisions requiring Member States to prove how their decisions will affect mitigation and adaptation to climate change in the CAP as well as improve animal welfare standards.

The European Commission wrote that the next CAP framework program (2021-2027), currently under discussionwill help addressing  animal welfare and environmental concerns.  Mr Wojciechowski, EU Commissioner for Agriculture,  recently said the European Parliament that: “the Commission has analysed the contribution of the CAP reform proposal to the EU’s environmental, climate, and biodiversity protection commitments in order to fully align it to the Green Deal goals. The analysis, published on 20 May, concludes that the CAP reform proposal is compatible with the Green Deal and the Farm-to-Fork and Biodiversity Strategies. It has the potential to accommodate the Green Deal’s ambitions.

Shall we expect a more coherent CAP? Probably  not,  considering the above- mentioned gaps about the right formulation and implementation of the CAP objectives and the issues around climate change and  animal welfare.  

The efforts to overcome the shortcomings should be much more forceful towards the direction of a paradigm-shift progressively replacing livestock practices with greener and truly animal welfare alternatives. Already the Green Deal and the Farm to Fork strategy involves shortcomings such as unresolved democracy deficit and high risk of greenwashing thus a transformative and solid CAP would be  needed.

The  current European Commission’s forecast about future achievements in the field of climate action and animal welfare directly associated with the next CAP seems, at the  very best, optimistic.