Simplification of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

What is simplification?

Simplification of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is part of the EU's overall strategy for better regulation. The EU aims to simplify and reduce EU legislation wherever possible, cutting red tape and reducing the regulatory burden on businesses, citizens and public administrations.

Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy

Reform helps adapt the CAP to new challenges faced by the EU agricultural industry

A first action plan on CAP simplification was published in 2006. Since then, there has been an ongoing CAP simplification exercise. In addition, there have been significant reforms of the CAP, most recently in 2013. These reforms ensure that the CAP responds to the challenges facing the agricultural sector. The comprehensive 2013 reform focused on three priorities:

  • viable food production
  • sustainable management of natural resources
  • balanced development of rural areas

The EU Commissioner for agriculture and rural development, Phil Hogan, has made simplification of the CAP a top EU priority for its mandate, focusing in particular on the implementation of CAP policies.

The Council's role is to ensure that feedback from member states is taken into account and that member states are involved in the simplification process.

Why is simplification needed?

The 2013 CAP reform improved the regulatory environment for the farming sector. This was the first time that a reform was carried out under the ordinary legislative procedure, where the Council co-legislates with the European Parliament on an equal footing. Due to the major changes introduced by the reform and its extent, it took some time and effort for the new rules to be implemented correctly. This is especially true for certain areas, such as the 'greening' of farm payments, which introduced environmentally sound farming practices, such as crop diversification, and maintaining ecologically rich landscape features and a minimum area of permanent grassland.

The EU institutions now want to look through what has been agreed and implemented, and see where improvements can be made in the short or medium term and also what can be done better next time. Initially, the exercise will mostly focus on the delegated and implementing acts - those acts which help to put in place the detailed rules needed to implement the reformed CAP.

A simpler framework for all actors in the CAP should increase competitiveness in the EU's agricultural sector. Simplifying CAP regulation will also save time and reduce costs for the farmers, economic operators and public authorities who have to comply with or manage the CAP, still respecting the principle of sound financial management.

In detail

In early 2015 Commissioner Hogan initiated a thorough screening of the entire agricultural acquis in order to identify the potential for simplification in that policy. After this initial screening Commissioner Hogan said he would review the rules on environmental focus areas and any other aspects of the basic payment scheme which could improve the lives of farmers.  He also indicated that there were more than 200 other Commission regulations which would also be considered for simplification.

The following principles were also highlighted:

  • all new and ongoing proposals should deliver in terms of simplification
  • Commission regulations implementing the Common market organisation (CMO) should be revised to reduce their number
  • a review of the rules on the ecological focus areas under the direct payments scheme should take place after the first year of application
  • rules for geographical indications should be closely examined to ensure that they are as effective and simple as possible

Many member states also indicated that the 'greening' of the CAP as a priority for simplification.

In the Council

The Council aims to ensure that national agricultural ministers and delegates are involved in the simplification exercise, especially in light of the greater use of delegated acts in the implementation of the reformed CAP. 

A first discussion on simplification was held during the Council meeting of agriculture and fisheries ministers on 15-16 December 2014. The Commission then presented the main elements of its simplification agenda.

The Council also held a policy debate on CAP simplification during a meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 16 March 2015 and adopted conclusions during the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 11 May 2015. The focus of these conclusions was on the potential for simplifying the delegated and implementing acts.  

Special Committee on Agriculture (SCA)

The Special Committee on Agriculture prepares the work of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council

Since May 2015 further debates at Council level on the state of play of the simplification of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) took place on 16 November 2015 and 17 May 2016, when the Commission presented the simplification measures already taken and those planned for the following months, with the exception of greening. 

At the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 18 July 2016, the Commission presented the Commission's report on the first year of the implementation of greening measures, including the results of the public consultation exercise. The presentation was followed by an exchange of views by ministers.

Future of the CAP

On 6 March 2017 the Council had an exchange of views on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy. In particular ministers shared ideas on how the priorities of the future CAP identified in the presidency paper can be achieved and on whether there should be a rebalancing of direct support and rural development.

Simplification was generally highlighted as an overall priority for future policies in order to release the full economic potential of EU farming and rural areas. Other issues indicated as priorities were: building resilience, responding to environmental challenges, investing in rural viability and vitality, ensuring generational renewal, maintaining a market orientation and strengthening farmers' position in the food chain.