Cover of EconPol Working Paper 17

The EU Budget and Common Agricultural Policy Beyond 2020: Seven More Years of Money for Nothing?

Friedrich Heinemann and Stefani Weiss

At the outset of European integration, farming featured high on the political agenda for good reason: the food security of postwar Europe was at stake. But by the 1980s, subsidies to agriculture still accounted for two-thirds of the EU budget. Today, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) accounts for roughly 38 percent of spending, the largest single expenditure in the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). According to the new Commission proposal for the MFF 2021–2027, this will change only slightly. Direct payments to farmers will still constitute the largest item in the CAP budget.

This analysis looks into the two main arguments for legitimizing CAP: income protection and European public goods. Our proposal for reform starts from the premise that income protection cannot justify the current level of direct payment from the EU budget. Likewise, the public good justification, which gained substantial rhetoric importance in the MFF 2014–2020, has not come to fruition. Evidence indicates that “greening conditions”, set up to protect the environment, have been largely non-binding, unproductive, and thus an unjustifiable expense. Against this backdrop, the Commission’s June 2018 proposal on CAP’s future is disappointing. We conclude that the current proposal is not in line with a sound public goods approach. Without substantial modification, direct payments will remain an ineffective incentive for the provision of agricultural services in the fields of environment, climate policy, and animal protection. In the Commission proposal, the instrument of “eco-schemes” comes closest to a model of public goods-related direct payments. In coming months, there are still opportunities to improve the draft. We recommend that in the future budget a certain share of direct payments – up to 50 percent of national envelopes – is spent on eco-schemes that should reflect a strict “value-for-money” rationale. Eco-schemes would then define compensation for the verified provision of public goods at well-defined unit prices.


Friedrich Heinemann and Stefani Weiss,"The EU Budget and Common Agricultural Policy Beyond 2020: Seven More Years of Money for Nothing?", EconPol Working Paper 17, October 2018.