Mansholt Plan

The Mansholt Plan – named after Sicco Mansholt (1908-1995), then the Vice-President, and later the President, of the European Commission – was the first significant blueprint for the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). It was proposed by the Commission in December 1968 and adopted in limited form by the Council of Ministers in 1972.

After serving as (Socialist) minister of agriculture in the Netherlands from 1945 until 1958, Mansholt took on the same portfolio in the new European Commission. He had been one of the earliest advocates of integrating agricultural markets, proposing a ‘green pool’ in the early 1950s, when the concept seemed utopian. As Commissioner, he designed and launched the CAP, starting at the Stresa Conference in July 1958, securing agreement on the policy’s key principles in 1960 and the introduction of price-support mechanisms for various products from 1962. Six years later, in a path-breaking analysis, he now identified the limits to the policy of market organisation which he himself had pioneered and put into effect.

Mansholt predicted that there would be a substantial over-supply in certain agricultural products unless the Community undertook to reduce the amount of land under cultivation in Europe. He noted that, perversely, despite increased spending and production during the 1960s, average farm incomes had not risen. His plan – otherwise known as the ‘1980 Agricultural Programme’ – envisaged the consolidation of farms, with a reduction of five million hectares of land under cultivation and a comparable number of small farmers leaving the sector. It allowed for generous compensation, to be paid for over time by making agricultural production more cost-effective and so limiting the cost of ‘intervention’ (the formal name for the process by which surplus production was bought and stored for future disposal). The plan also laid emphasis on unified markets for each product and strict limits on national aids to unprofitable small-holdings, compensated for by a high degree of protection against imports. In tandem, there would be programmes for greater vocational training, retraining and early retirement among farmers.

Despite the careful balance it sought to strike between competing interests, the Mansholt Plan was highly controversial, especially among small farmers and the national and European politicians defending them. The debate revealed the marked divergence between a European Commission willing to admit excesses in the CAP system and a Council of Agriculture Ministers in particular that was locked into the defence of established farming interests. Mansholt was forced to dilute his proposals and the reforms eventually agreed in 1972 were much less radical. The three measures adopted avoided making difficult choices on limiting price support and confined themselves essentially to offering additional spending for modernisation. The bruising experience of the Mansholt Plan warned off others from tackling CAP reform in the 1970s, thus guaranteeing that most of the predictions that the Commission made in 1968 about a growing structural over-supply of agricultural produce were to be realised in practice.

Further reading: Richard T. Griffiths, ‘The Mansholt Plan’ in Griffiths, The Netherlands and the Integration of Europe 1945-1957, 1990.

September 2012

Copyright: Anthony Teasdale, 2012

Citation: The Penguin Companion to European Union (2012), additional website entry


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