In July 1958, seven months after the Treaty of Rome came into force, Sicco Mansholt, the Dutch Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for agriculture, convened a conference of Commission officials, national ministers and civil servants, outside experts and representatives of farming organisations among the Six, to reflect on how to accomplish the objectives of the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), as set out in Article 39 EEC (now Article 33 EC). The conference was held at Stresa on Lake Maggiore in Italy. Perhaps its most far-reaching conclusion was that agriculture should be supported through a system of guaranteed prices for particular products, rather than direct aids for farmers’ incomes. Mansholt warned in Stresa that there was a ‘big danger’ that ‘if prices are fixed centrally, then producers and consumers may lose touch with market forces’. The final communiqué talked of ‘a price policy which would simultaneously avoid over-production and leave room for competition’. This policy choice hugely affected the detailed design and operation of the CAP until the late 1990s. The Commissioner’s subsequent Mansholt Plan (1968) was a largely unsuccessful attempt to unwind some of the consequences of the choice that crystallised in Stresa.
The conference took the form of an open plenary, with three working groups, and was very popular with its participants. Emile Noël, the Commission’s first Secretary General, recalled in 1987: ‘It was a heady mix of debates and decision-making, break-throughs in thinking and detailed point-by-point discussion. From it emerged the broad outlines of what was to become the CAP. It was an amazing cultural melting-pot. We never saw anything like it over the next 30 years’ (quoted in European Commission, The European Commission 1958-72: History and Memories, 2007).
The Stresa Conference of July 1958 is not to be confused with an event of a similar name held in April 1935, at which the leaders of Britain, France and Italy met in the same town to reaffirm the Locarno Treaties (1925) and express their common opposition to German attempts to undermine the Treaty of Versailles by rearmament and threats to Austrian independence.
Copyright: Anthony Teasdale, 2012
Citation: The Penguin Companion to European Union (2012), additional website entry