The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP): Purpose, History & Current Events Video

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  • 0:01 CAP Overview
  • 0:54 A Brief History
  • 3:22 CAP'S Role Today and…
  • 5:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will take a look at the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy. We will examine its purpose, discover its history, and explore its current goals.

CAP Overview

Old MacDonald has a farm. So do 14 million other farmers throughout the European Union. In fact, 77% of the Union's land is rural, with 47% as farmland. About half of the Union's population lives in these rural and farming areas. Very early on, Union members realized that they needed a policy to assist farmers, control agricultural prices, manage their rural resources and the environment, and make sure that Europe has enough safe, healthy, and affordable food to go around.

That's exactly what the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) does. Let's listen as Old MacDonald, the Scottish farmer, tells us about the CAP's history and how it affects his farm and his life today.

A Brief History

'Well now,' says Old MacDonald, scratching his head, 'I'm a bit of a history buff really, so I can tell you quite a bit about CAP's early days.'

During World War II, food shortages and even starvation were common across Europe, and as nations faced their post-war future, they were determined never to let that happen again. When the 1957 Treaty of Rome created the European Community, the forerunner to the European Union, it set a few objectives for agricultural support and growth. The Treaty's signers promised to increase agricultural productivity, stabilize farm markets, make sure that farmers had a decent standard of living, and establish reasonably priced food supplies.

Nations soon realized that they needed some sort of official guidance to help them meet these goals, and in 1962, the CAP got its start. At first, it focused mostly on supporting agricultural prices, increasing productivity, and stabilizing markets. It actually worked a bit too well because throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Europe faced a food surplus. Farmers were just growing too much food, and a revised CAP set quotas to try to control the problem.

In 1992, the European Union decided that the CAP needed a major update. The new CAP added environmental concerns to its agenda, encouraging farmers to make responsible environmental decisions, preserve the landscape and its natural resources, and fight against climate change. It also emphasized technological growth and changed its focus from price support to direct aid payments that would help farmers improve their farms and care for the environment at the same time.

Over the next few years, the CAP encouraged farmers, even small farmers, to engage in rural development, start organic movements, and pay close attention to food quality. It also opened Europe's agricultural market to the rest of the world, importing products from other countries and supplying food to nations in need. In 2003, another CAP revision increased income support for farmers and promoted further environmental guidelines and animal welfare requirements.

CAPS's Role Today and in the Future

Old MacDonald pauses and takes a deep breath. 'Whew!' he exclaims. 'That's some history, isn't it? It's very important to us farmers because for over fifty years CAP has been our guide and our support as we care for the land and feed our fellow citizens. CAP still makes a huge difference in our lives today. It underwent another major reform in 2013 that is designed to lead Europe's farmers into a bright future. The latest reform focuses especially on producing enough food to meet current needs, managing natural resources, and developing rural areas.'

The newest CAP lays out ten goals to make the European Union's agricultural community better than ever.

1. Better distribution of direct income support to farmers so they can carry out their many important roles as food growers and advocates of the environment

2. Crisis management tools to help farmers cope with disasters

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