The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has been an ever-present feature for many farmers in Europe for the past 60 years. For Irish farmers, our commencement date was 1973, so we too have been influenced by the policy objectives and financial incentives/necessities laid down in the CAP for almost 50 years.

On 30 July this year, the CAP will be in existence for 60 years. The passage of time means that there will be many in Irish and European farming who will not have experienced the origins of the CAP or understood its evolution through the decades.

Because it is a critical element of agricultural policy and support, the Irish Farmers Journal has compiled this special ‘birthday’ supplement to commemorate the 60 years by bringing you first hand experiences from many of those involved at critical stages from its inception to today.

Policy direction

Some will argue that the problems agriculture faces today are a direct consequence of the policy direction of the CAP during its lifetime. This is unquestionably true, but one must also recognise that policy is the instrument used to achieve the objectives of the day and of the decade.

The period following CAP accession in 1973 met with unparalleled expansion in agricultural output, which was primarily driven by profitability at farm level and fuelled by higher prices.

There were problems along the way, but these were generally ironed out to help achieve the initial objectives, which included the supply of adequate high-quality food for the people of Europe, to prevent post-war food scarcity issues and provide a fair return to food producers.

The production-driven incentives quickly led to inevitable surpluses across supported foodstuffs.


This eventually precipitated a significant change in the system of support, which was spearheaded by Ireland’s Ray MacSharry. Support was moved from the animal/kilo/litre/tonne to an area or numbers-based system.

This policy was further developed during the Franz Fischler era, which also brought environment and other social factors into focus.

As we move into the 61st year, the CAP currently in gestation places a far greater focus on environment, climate and biodiversity considerations, with food production now a lesser objective of the European spend.