Knowledge Platform


The Utilised Agricultural Area (UAA) represents 42% of the whole EU territorial area. The management of the Utilised Agricultural Area has been influenced by the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that was launched in 1962. The main aims of the CAP are to improve agricultural productivity so that consumers have a stable supply of affordable food, and to ensure that EU farmers can make a reasonable living. The CAP has three dimensions: market support, income support and rural development. Along these three dimensions various instruments are applied. They differ with regard to allocation efficiency, distribution impacts, administrative and information requirements, voluntary versus compulsory measures and degree of co-financing by member states. Regarding market support, prices support, trade or transfer of ownership rights, like emission certificates or quota represent one form of clearly market-oriented intervention. Regarding the second dimension, direct payments provide farmers with a basic income, but also ensures the provision of environmental public goods (e.g. through the "greening" measures or the Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAEC) standards that are compulsory in order to receive direct payments). Regarding the third dimension, rural development, national (and sometimes regional) programs of development are established to address the specific needs and challenges facing rural areas. Incentives can target at management-oriented behaviour (prescribing a clearly defined practice that commonly is connected to higher production costs), result-oriented behavior (prescribing a clearly defined outcome) or payments for ecosystem services, whit the ecosystem service benefit as central objective.

The design of the CAP and its implementation has comprehensively influenced agricultural landscapes. While some CAP measures have a direct focus on landscapes, non-targeted measures also have the potential to have a positive or negative influence on agricultural landscapes through their impacts on agricultural land use and systems. On one hand, the CAP has supported production intensification in the last decades, which was translated in the most productive areas into landscape homogenization, higher farm size and loss of many traditional features and habitats (hedges, trees, field margins and wet areas). On the other hand, direct payments and the Less Favoured Area (LFA) scheme have helped to sustain farming in marginal regions and therefore have had positive impacts on the associated farmed landscapes. Moreover, several rural development measures support farmers to carry out agricultural activities favorable to the maintenance of the rural landscapes, and their valorisation into activities generating socio-economic benefits for rural communities. Obviously the CAP is not the only factor to influence farming practices and therefore affecting EU agricultural landscapes. Other drivers also play a fundamental role, by limiting the potential impact of the CAP, but also providing opportunities for the CAP public support to have a multiplier effect. The SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) methodology is applied to provide a structured summary of the conclusions of the case studies relative to the role of the CAP in fostering landscape change and its contribution to socio-economic development and competitiveness.

Empirical Case Study and Literature Evidence

(+) (-)
Internal Strengths Weaknesses
Pillar I Direct payments contribute to the maintenance of agricultural landscape through income support and cross compliance. The effects of pillar I payments on landscapes due to the homogenisation of land use and farming practices.
Pillar II The existence of several measures supporting landscape provision in the rural development policy. The limited integration between RDP instruments and the limited use of coordination mechanisms between farmers limit the efficiency of RD policy in contributing to landscape management.
External Opportunities Threats
Natural conditions Where other landscapes of interest are close to agricultural landscapes, there is an opportunity for the CAP to support the valorisation of landscape diversity and therefore increase the socio-economic benefits from landscape management. CAP payments can be insufficient to counterbalance other drivers of farming practices and landscape management, such as the agro-climatic conditions and their impact on the profitability of farming.
People The existence of private initiatives and market instruments for the valorisation of agricultural landscapes. In the areas where there is no agricultural landscape traditions, farmers do not have positive attitudes towards landscape conservation or perceive their actions will have only negligible impacts on landscapes, financial support by the CAP is not sufficient to encourage conservation and valorisation and the potential role for the CAP is much more limited. Moreover, in the areas where stakeholders' preferences regarding landscapes are highly heterogeneous, it is difficult to implement CAP measures addressing all priorities.

Further reading

Brady, M., K. Kellermann, et al. (2009). Impacts of Decoupled Agricultural Support on Farm Structure, Biodiversity and Landscape Mosaic: Some EU Results. Journal of Agricultural Economics 60(3): 563-585.

Brouwer, F. and P. Lowe (2000). CAP regimes and the European countryside. Prospects for Integration Between Agricultural, Regional, and Environmental Policies. CABI, Wallingford.

Cooper, T., K. Hart, et al. (2009) Provision of Public Goods through Agriculture in the European Union. Report Prepared for DG Agriculture and Rural Development. Institute for European Environmental Policy

Lefebvre, M., M. Espinosa, et al. (2012) The influence of the Common Agricultural Policy on agricultural landscapes. JRC Scientific and Policy Report. European Commission, Joint Research Center.

Lefebvre, M., M. Espinosa, et al. (2014) Agricultural landscapes as multi-scale public good and the role of the Common Agricultural Policy. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management.

Paracchini, M. L. and C. Capitani (2011). Implementation of a EU wide indicator for the rural-agrarian landscape. JRC Scientific and Technical reports, European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Institute for Environment and Sustainability.

Paracchini, M. L., C. Capitani, et al. (2012). Measuring societal awareness of the rural agrarian landscape: indicators and scale issues. JRC Scientific and Technical reports, European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Institute for Environment and Sustainability.