At the outset of the EU, one of the main objectives was the system of intervention in agricultural markets and protection of the farming sector known as the common agricultural policy – CAP. Throughout most of its four decades of existence, the CAP has had a very poor public relations image. It is extremely unpopular among consumers, and on a number of occasions it has all but bankrupted the EU. The EU’s seven year budget (2021-2027), also known as the ‘multi-annual financial framework (MFF) is currently being discussed and agricultural subsidies are once again a controversial issue although have been reduced from previous years – 70% of the EU budget in 1980 to 37% in 2018 – see graph right from The Economist.
The aim of discussions is to reduce the amount to between 28% and 31% of the MFF. EU support levels are very high when compared to other countries. The graph below shows the support that other countries receive – producer support estimate (PSE), as a share of total farm income. EU is 20.% (2018) above the OECD average and well ahead of China, USA, Russia, Canada, Brazil, and Australia. Norway is at 62.36% whilst New Zealand is 0.48%.
Who gets what from EU farm subsidies?
There is wide variation in the support provided to agriculture within the “Common” agriculture policy. Latvia does the best of any country in the EU with a lot of other more recent eastern European entrants into the EU – of the top 10 Greece and Finland are the only non East European countries. The Netherlands gets a mere 7% of their income from EU support and traditional supporters of agriculture spend like Ireland, Luxembourg, Italy, and Poland are all below the EU average
- Despite being a vocal critic of the CAP (and receiving a separate rebate) UK support is broadly the same as the EU average
- France’s support is only just above average, while Germany’s is in the bottom quarter
- In terms of the “market price support” element—which inflates EU food prices—Belgium, Hungary, Malta, Poland, and UK producers benefit most
The variation seen here reflects a combination of factors, few of which relate to a policy objective. Most payments are distributed on the basis of a farm’s size in hectares—though per hectare rates vary and were often based on the historical value of production. Other payments relate to sustainability of farming methods, numbers of young farmers, or how much farms produce. With agriculture seen as a significant contributor to global emissions should subsidies be tied to those farmers reducing their impact on climate change?
The economics behind CAP intervention price
An intervention price is the price at which the CAP would be ready to come into the market and to buy the surpluses, thus preventing the price from falling below the intervention price. This is illustrated below in Figure 1. Here the European supply of lamb drives the price down to the equilibrium 0Pfm – the free market price, where supply and demand curves intersect and quantity demanded and quantity supplied equal 0Qm. However, the intervention price (0Pint) is located above the equilibrium and it has the following effects:
- It encourages an increase in European production. Consequently, output is raised to 0Qs1.
- At intervention price, there is a production surplus equal to the horizontal distance AB which is the excess of supply above demand at the intervention price.
- In buying the surplus, the intervention agency incurs costs equal to the area ABCD. It will then incur the cost of storing the surplus or of destroying it.
- There is a contraction in domestic consumption to 0Qd1
Consumers pay a higher price to the extent that the intervention price exceeds the notional free market price.
Figure 1: The effect of an intervention price on the income of EU farmers.
The increase in farmers’ incomes following intervention is shown also: as has been noted, one of the objectives of price support policy is to raise farmers’ incomes. The shaded area EBCFG indicates the increase in the incomes of the suppliers of lamb.
- The Economist: 23-11-19 – Milking taxpayers