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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 and citizens.

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 2013 reform was a comprehensive reform which focused on three priorities:

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

The new EU Commissioner for agriculture and rural development, Phil Hogan, has made simplification of the CAP a top EU priority for 2015. In particular, he wants to focus on areas where improvements could be made to 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 latest CAP reform improved the regulatory environment for the farming sector. However, this was the first time that reform was carried out under the ordinary legislative procedure, where the Council co-legislates with the European Parliament. Due to this change and the extent of the reform, it was a complicated process. This is especially true for certain areas, such as the 'greening' of farm payments - through the introduction of environmentally sound farming practices, such as crop diversification, and maintaining ecologically rich landscape features and a minimum area of permanent grassland.

As a result, the EU institutions now want to look through what has been agreed 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.

In detail

Discussions on simplification are ongoing in the Commission, the Council and the Parliament. The EU Commissioner for agriculture and rural development has already said he will review the rules on environmental focus areas and any other aspects of the basic payment scheme which would improve the lives of farmers.  He has also indicated that there are more than 200 other Commission regulations which will also be considered for simplification.

The Commission has identified the following areas where rules could be simplified:

  • 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 have also indicated that the 'greening' of the CAP should be a priority for simplification.

The Commission has so far only presented a few specific legislative proposals on CAP simplification. It is currently consulting member states at expert and ministerial level, to gather feedback on the implementation of the new CAP and see where rules can be simplified in the near future. Priority should be given to areas which are of most concern to farmers and other beneficiaries and where there is the largest benefit from a reduction in administrative burden.

In addition, the Commission has launched an internal screening exercise of the entire agricultural acquis - all the EU legislation related to the CAP. Among others, this will look at:

  • the application of subsidiarity
  • direct payments, market measures and quality policy
  • member states' implementation choices in the areas of direct payments and rural development

Together with input from the Council and the Parliament, the results of this screening exercise will help identify areas for improvement and simplification.

In the Council

With the new delegated acts - where the Commission plays a stronger role - used to set out the rules for many aspects of the reformed CAP, many member states feel further from the process. The Council therefore aims to ensure that national agricultural ministers and delegates are involved in the simplification exercise.

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

Ministers also held a policy debate on CAP simplification during a meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 16 March 2015. In the debate, ministers discussed issues relating to the recently implemented CAP reform and identified priority areas for simplification. The most important issues highlighted were the 'greening' measures and controls.  

Special Committee on Agriculture (SCA)

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

CAP simplification was also discussed in the Council's working parties and at the Special Committee on Agriculture. The outcome of the March policy debate and the discussions in the Council's preparatory bodies helped to prepare the ground for the adoption of Council conclusions on the issue. In recent months, the Presidency has also consulted ministers and summarised their views on priority areas for simplification. Their input is based on national experiences of implementation of the recently reformed CAP.

The Council adopted the conclusions during the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 11 May 2015. The focus was on the potential for simplifying the delegated and implementing acts. 

Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 16 November 2015 the Council held an exchange of views on the state of play of the simplification of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) as a part of the EU's overall strategy to streamline and reduce EU legislation wherever possible. Ministers welcomed the agenda presented by the Commission the same day. This agenda aims to review the delegated and implementing acts of the CAP in line with the Council conclusions. The Council will come back to CAP simplification in the coming months to assess progress on this issue.