The role of European Commissioner for Agriculture has been held by 14 individuals, two women and 12 men, since the establishment of the Commission in 1958.
Two Irish Commissioners – Ray MacSharry (1989–1992) and Phil Hogan (2014-2019) – have held the role in this timespan, while some of Europe’s largest agricultural economies, including France and Germany, have never held the portfolio.
Some of the first politicians to hold the position of European Commissioner for Agriculture, one of the most difficult roles in Brussels, did so at a time when Europe was continuing its recovery from World War II and advances in technology and science were enabling the modernisation of European agriculture.
More recent commissioners have grappled with reforming the flagship policy first developed and then overseen by the office, the Common Agriculture Policy and its latest role in environmental protection.
Recognised as one of the founding fathers of the European Union, Dutch farmer Sicco Mansholt served as European Commissioner for Agriculture from 1958 to 1972, making him the first and the longest serving holder of the office. The CAP was finalised and introduced during his tenure.
Mansholt held the agriculture role under the consecutive Hallstein, Rey and Malfatti Commissions before becoming president of the European Commission himself on 22 March 1972.
He was born into a socialist Dutch farming family in the Groningen province, Netherlands.
As a young man, he worked on a tea plantation in Indonesia and later returned home to farm on Wieringermeer, a reclaimed Dutch polder from 1937 until 1945.
Prior to his roles in Brussels, he acted as the Minister of Agriculture, Fishery and Food Distribution in Holland from 1945 to 1958. As Minister of Agriculture of the Netherlands, a key player in Europe at the time, he was one of the architects of the CAP in its initial development, work he finalised once being nominated to the Commission.
Italian politician Carlo Scarascia-Mugnozza succeeded Sicco Mansholt as European Commissioner for Agriculture in 1972, serving under Mansholt’s own Commission. In a move involving very different policy briefs at the time, he become Commissioner for Environmental Policy after only one year in the agricultural portfolio and held this role until 1977.
A member of the Italian Christian Democracy party, he had previously held roles in education and justice in successive Italian governments.
He was a MEP from 1961 to 1972 where he chaired its energy, research and parliamentary political committees at various stages.
Another Dutch politician, Pierre Lardinois, held the role of European Commissioner for Agriculture for four years between 1973 and 1977, under the then Ortoli Commission.
An agriculture and engineering alum of the well-known Wageningen Agricultural College in the Netherlands, the former agronomist held a range of agricultural roles in Dutch private organisations and Government, including as chair of the Brabant Christian Farmers’ Association (NCB) and Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries.
He was nominated as the Dutch representative to the Commission in 1972, resigned his ministerial role and became Commissioner for Agriculture and Fisheries.
The Dane, Finn Olav Gundelach, served as European Commissioner for Agriculture between 1977 and 1981, under the Jenkins and Thorn Commissions. He was also vice-president of the Commission at this time.
The former Danish representative to the United Nations was a strong trade negotiator, having previously held roles as director of the trade branch of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and vice-director of the entire GATT in 1965.
Gundelach was succeeded as European Commissioner for Agriculture by another Danish politician, Poul Dalsager, who continued under the second Thorn Commission.
Dalsager’s political career had been consistently tied to the brief of agriculture where he was Denmark’s Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries between 1975 and 1981. When nominated to the European Commission, he immediately continued to hold this agricultural brief.
The third Dutch Agriculture Commissioner, Frans Andriessen, held the role from 1985 to 1989, under the Delors Commission
Andriessen’s Brussels career was prolific but turbulent. He and his successor in the agriculture brief, Irish Commissioner Ray MacSharry, clashed over an agricultural trade agreement leading to MacSharry’s resignation but he would later return.
The Dutch politician became European Commissioner for Agriculture in 1985, following an unsuccessful bid to become European Commission president. While European Commissioner for Agriculture, Andriessen dealt with what was then known as the “mutton war” between Britain and France, where French farmers boycotted British lamb consignments. He also fought German demands for higher payments for tillage farmers, struggling to secure backing for his CAP budget in doing so.
Andriessen’s approach to European farming was to move to cut excess production, targeting milk and grain surpluses. He introduced set-aside areas for tillage farmers in an effort to cut production, the first time the concept was formalised in Brussels.
Sligo man Ray MacSharry became European Commissioner for Agriculture in 1989 and served until January 1993, under the second Delors Commission.
He had previously held a number of ministerial roles in Irish governments, including as Minister for Agriculture from 1979 to 1981.
One of the then Taoiseach Charlie Haughey’s strongest allies, MacSharry served as Minister for Agriculture at a time when farm prices in Ireland were falling. His later roles as Minister for Finance and Tánaiste were during periods of hard recession in Ireland.
He was nicknamed ‘Mack the Knife’ for his ruthless cutting of State spending during this time.
MacSharry can be credited as the first European Commissioner for Agriculture to be able to secure successful compromises on the reform of the CAP, doing so in 1992 following the conflict overseen in European agriculture by his immediate predecessor.
The development became known as the MacSharry reforms and marks an evolution point between old CAP policies and the modern versions.
René Steichen (1992–1995)
Luxembourg’s René Steichen was European Commissioner for Agriculture from 1992 to 1995 as part of the third Delors Commission.
His prior political career included his appointment to the role of Luxembourgian Minister for Agriculture, Viticulture and Rural Development in 1989.
Franz Fischler (1995–2004)
Having held the Commissioner role for almost 10 years – one of the longer terms in the role’s history – Austrian politician Franz Fischler was European Commissioner for Agriculture between 1995 and 2004 as part of the Santer and then Prodi Commissions.
Overseeing European agriculture at the turn of the century, Fischler is an agricultural science alum of the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, Vienna. Before his Brussels role, he had been Austria’s Federal Minister for Agriculture and Forestry.
Fischler strongly influenced Europe’s Agenda 2000 at the 1999 Berlin summit. Agenda 2000 was an EU programme which included the objectives of again reforming the CAP, as well as other regional policies, and to establish a new financial framework for the years 2000 to 2006.
Sandra Kalniete (2004)
A current MEP, Latvian politician Sandra Kalniete became the first female European Commissioner for Agriculture for a brief term in 2004 under the Prodi Commission. The appointment followed a political career which had limited agriculture-related roles. In November 2004, she was not renominated as Latvia’s representative to the Commission and stepped back from European politics.
However, in 2009, Kalniete was elected as an MEP for Latvia and then re-elected in 2014. She has served as a member the parliament’s agricultural and rural development committee.
Mariann Fischer Boel (2004–2010)
Danish politician Mariann Fischer Boel was European Commissioner for Agriculture between 2004 and 2010 as part of the Barroso Commission I. She had previously been Minister of Agriculture and Foods in Denmark.
During her time as Commissioner, Fischer Boel oversaw a number of changes that had a major impact on European farmers, including those in Ireland. She reformed the EU’s sugar sector, a move which cut the benchmark EU sugar price by 36% over several years and led to the closure of sugar beet factories in Ireland. She aimed to bring the EU sugar sector back into balance with the rest of the world market, as a net importer rather than exporter, and worked to support sugar beet farmers impacted by the move by bringing them under the Single Farm Payment.
In 2008, she carried out a review of the CAP and made some adjustments with the objective of keeping the CAP broadly in line with earlier 2003 reforms. Fischer Boel’s CAP “health check”, as it was termed, included the enlargement of some milk quotas to prepare for their later full removal in 2015.
The review also abolished the requirement for farmers to set aside a portion of their arable land and decoupled a greater share of farmers’ income support payments.
Fischer Boel introduced new rules to improve the transparency of CAP payments. These included the requirement for all member states to maintain a website noting the CAP payments farmers receive.
Another element of her tenure saw Fischer Boel relaxing marketing standards for 26 types of fruit and vegetables, as she was very much against excessive red tape.
Dacian Ciolos (2010-2014)
Romanian agronomist and organic farmer Dacian Ciolos served as European Commissioner for Agriculture under the second Barroso Commission from 2010 to 2014, having previously been Romania’s Minister for Agriculture (2007 to 2008) and later its prime minister (2015 to 2017).
He was the first European Commissioner for Agriculture to set an objective to address the impact of European agriculture on the environment. His priorities in the role included improving Europe’s food security, environmental preservation, biodiversity protection and combatting global warming, while delivering a fair standard of living for farmers.
Phil Hogan (2014–2020)
The second Irish politician to be appointed as European Commissioner for Agriculture, Phil Hogan began his term in 2014 and ended it in December 2019 when he became European Commissioner for Trade.
Before his nomination to Brussels by then Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Hogan had been Irish Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government from 2011 to 2014 and Minister of State at the Department of Finance from 1994 to 1995.
Much of Commissioner Hogan’s work involved the establishment and growth of trade relationships for EU agricultural produce with non-EU states, securing new markets for European farmers. However, some of this work did draw controversy, including on home soil when, following his involvement in negotiations on the Mercosur trade deal, Irish farmer representatives accused him of allowing greater amounts of cheaper South American beef imports into Europe. See page 25.
Janusz Wojciechowski (2019-present)
Polish man Janusz Wojciechowski is the current European Commissioner for Agriculture, holding the role since 2019, under the Von der Leyen Commission.
A long-standing Brussels politician, Wojciechowski was an MEP for 12 years from 2004 to 2016. Between 2004 and 2006, he held the role of vice-chair of the parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development.
As Commissioner, Wojciechowski has overseen the latest reform of the CAP, embedding environmental action and requirements on farmers as key elements.