Federal Minister of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection
European agriculture has experienced a sea change since the establishment of the European Communities and the communitarization of national agricultural policies. This is mainly due to advances in technology and cultivation, as well as social changes. One of the traditional tasks of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has been to ensure that these developments are socially acceptable.
Nowadays the Common Agricultural Policy has to find answers to the challenges generated by the globalization of agricultural markets as well as the demographical changes in many rural regions. At the same time, society is making growing demands on agriculture in terms of nature conservation, animal and environmental protection, as well as the way in which food is produced.
The European Union has therefore radically reformed many spheres of its agricultural policy since the early 1990s. These reforms have been aimed at making this sector more market-oriented and at promoting sustainability. To make up for the fall in support prices for agricultural produce, farmers have been receiving direct payments decoupled from production. Instead, farmers need to observe special regulations on animal and environmental protection as well as food safety.
At the same time, the new CAP is intended to reward practices which make a contribution to society but carry no price tag. These include the conservation and cultivation of traditional farming and recreation landscapes within the context of rural development.
Structural changes affect not only agriculture but the entire rural sphere. Integrated political strategies are needed more than ever today. Promotion of rural areas is therefore a key cornerstone of the Common Agricultural Policy. The European Union's recent reforms have created new incentives for tapping the potential of rural areas and mobilizing creative forces. The production of renewables for energy generation and for industrial use, among other things, plays a key role in this.
EU policy also focuses on food safety and animal welfare. For instance, the EU is cooperating closely to combat transboundary threats such as bird flu.
The main objective of the European Union's Common Fisheries Policy is to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources from the sea, lakes and rivers.