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There is a good chance that the CAP will be revolutionized after 2013. But many stakeholders are discouraged by the experience that vested interests regularly trump rational arguments and stymie change, as evidenced once again by the minimalist Health Check reform of 2009. Stakeholders are only likely to invest in early and significant advocacy efforts if they believe in the opportunity for big gains. Therefore, reform promoters need to communicate that, this time, fundamental CAP reform is within reach.

These are some of the many reasons for optimism:

Budget Review

The next CAP will be negotiated in the context of a new financial framework for the EU. The Budget Review, a preparatory exercise run by DG Budget that subjects all EU spending to the same standards of analytical scrutiny, is laying bare the vulnerability of the CAP. If agriculture ministers fail to come forward with ambitious reform proposals, finance ministers and heads of state will do the job for them. The pressure for reform is thus higher, the scope for interstate bargains across EU spending and financing broader, and the involvement of non-farm actors stronger than ever before.

Distributional shifts

The new member states will claim a bigger share of the new financial framework. Eastern enlargement is thus changing national interests in EU spending. In particular, France, the long-standing CAP-defender, will receive less from the CAP budget. These distributional shifts make simple continuation of traditional policies with some cuts less viable.

Economic crisis

The economic crisis leaves a lasting strain on national budgets. It is unrealistic to ask for substantial increases in the EU budget, though the responsibilities of the EU are constantly growing. The EU budget might even shrink. The only solution is to shift money from the wasteful CAP to better uses.

Ecological crisis

Of at least of equal importance is the ecological crisis. The climate is changing, biodiversity is decreasing, water is getting scarcer. Under such circumstances, a CAP that subsidizes a non-sustainable farming model becomes politically unsustainable.

Farm income

Even if agricultural prices have come down after their spikes in 2008, the long-term perspective for farmers is promising. The trend of rising farm income in the EU will continue and further undermine the case for farm income support.

Farm lobby

Farmers find it increasingly difficult to agree on a common position. The dividing lines are manifold – Swedish farmers have little in common with their French colleagues, ‘horn’ competes with ‘corn’, small-scale farmers complain against large-scale farmers who traditionally dominate farm federations, young farmers are more open to change than their elder peers, and organic producers disagree with conventional producers.

CAP rigidity

In 1992 and 2003, DG Agriculture managed to reform the CAP – first by replacing guaranteed prices with production subsidies and then by decoupling subsidies from production. The objective was to preserve the CAP as an EU-funded farm income support scheme. By contrast, the 2008/09 ‘Health Check’ reform was so marginal that it could not relegitimize the CAP. This rigidity exposes the policy all the more to its critics.