The share of agriculture in the EU-27 gross domestic product (GDP) is just under 3%; but the sector is the principal source of income for around 20% of its population, which live in predominantly rural regions that would be devastated without its contribution. Moreover, the combined agricultural and food sector forms an important part of the EU economy, accounting for 15 million jobs (8.3% of total employment) and 4.4% of GDP. The EU is the world’s largest producer of food and beverages, with combined production estimated at EUR 675 billion. Finally and most importantly, the self-sufficiency of the EC/EU in basic agricultural products is vital, not only for the wellbeing of its citizens, but also for the political independence of its Member States. The economic, social and political importance of agriculture is, therefore, much greater than its share in the GDP of the Union.
Without a shadow of a doubt, agriculture is the economic sector where the process of European integration is furthest advanced. This achievement is all the more significant in that State interventionism and the conflicts of national interests complicated the task of creating a common policy in this sector. Indeed, prior to the common market, the Member States were actively interventionist in agriculture [see section 21.1]. National interventionism had to be corrected to enable free trade and free play of competition in the agricultural sector. The creation of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is therefore an exemplary achievement of the multinational integration process.
Nonetheless, the common agricultural policy is difficult to manage, for it implies the use of common prices, common price management instruments, joint financing of support measures and common external protection. All these cumbersome but unavoidable mechanisms form part of the CAP's market organisation. The latter is one of the CAP's two wings, the other being rural development policy. Although the common market in agricultural products has ensured supply security of foodstuffs at reasonable prices for consumers, it would not have been sufficient in itself to attain the other objectives of the Treaty, namely increased agricultural productivity and a higher standard of living for farmers. The latter required an active socio-structural policy, interacting with other common policies, such as the regional and social, to guarantee the Union's rural areas a place in the single market.