EU opens public debate on its agricultural policy, the prelude to a major reform in 2013.
The commission announced plans this week to overhaul its agricultural policy in line with the EU's new long-term economic strategy.
In a speech at the European parliament, agriculture commissioner Dacian Cioloş, said the current policy faces major challenges, including climate change, problems with food availability and pressures on resources and rural economies.
Changes will be proposed toward the end of this year, after the commission has reviewed the public comments. They would take effect after the current programme of funding expires in 2013.
It is hoped the consultation, which ends in June, will draw contributions from consumers, environmental campaigners and animal welfare groups, in addition to farmers.
The EU is working on a 10-year economic plan, the Europe 2020 strategy. It is likely to have far-reaching implications for agriculture, in part because of its emphasis on a low-carbon economy.
EU agricultural policy - CAP - seeks to guarantee farmers a reasonable standard of living, ensure sufficient food at fair prices, and preserve Europe's rural heritage. Costing about €55bn a year, it accounts for 40% of the EU's budget, most of which is paid to farmers in the form of direct subsidies. About 5% of the working population is engaged in agriculture.
The EU has made extensive changes to the policy over the last decades, abolishing production-based farm aid and giving farmers more freedom to grow what the market wants.
A recent EU survey shows broad support for the policy, with six in 10 respondents saying they support current spending levels or an even bigger budget.
As the EU pursues further reform, commissioner Cioloş warned that the stakes are high: "The events that the world has experience in the last two years serve as a reminder of this."
In 2008 the world saw a sudden and steep rise in food prices that triggered protests in many countries. Last year, European dairy farmers took to the streets in anger over plummeting milk prices.