THE EU has been marking sixty years of the Common Agricultural Policy. This anniversary might have passed without much comment, if not for the problems facing Europe today having echoes of the conditions that led to the creation of the CAP in 1962.

The policy was for a simpler era of just the six founding member states of the then EEC. It was shaped by years of post-World War 2 food shortages. Roll the clock on sixty years and Europe again faces fallout from a war on its doorstep and is under threat from a massive global power. Food security and affordability are back at the top of the agenda.

The CAP was created more than ten years before the UK joined the EEC. Back then the UK had a system of deficiency payments and standard quantities. When prices fell farmers were paid to make up the gap to an agreed price for a set level of production. This was bureaucratic, but a sideshow because the UK food industry was built around imports from the southern hemisphere and South America.

New Zealand lamb and dairy products; beef from Uruguay and Argentina that turned Fray Bentos from a port in Uruguay into a brand. This led to the growth of the Vestey operation and its Dewhurst Butchers chain as one of the first global agricultural companies. It also put the concept of cheap food front and centre of UK policy.

By contrast the CAP was based around tackling food shortages with European production, boosting food security and ensuring a fair income from farmers. This reflected a commitment in the EEC's founding Treaty of Rome to close the income gap between urban and rural areas. The CAP was not designed to be a cheap food policy. It was about maintaining prices and restricting imports, making it the polar opposite of UK policy.

The birth of the CAP was inevitably a fudge. It was to be agreed by a certain date, but with final agreement elusive, clocks were stopped until a deal could be reached. Its creation was driven by Germany and France and that dynamic remains the driving force, even today with 27 member states. In the early days it was deemed a success, in that it tackled the problems facing the EEC.

However, as the EEC became the EC and then the EU and the number of member states grew, the CAP became a victim of its own success. Shortages and lack of food security gave way to milk lakes and beef mountains as the policy failed to find ways to deal with the explosion of productivity science brought to agriculture. This in turn led to quotas, as attempts were made to turn a supertanker of out-of-control production. Europe ended up with a policy designed to tackle the issues of the 1950s in a very different world of the 1970s and 1980s.

It was only when Ireland's Ray MacSharry became farm commissioner and began to shape the CAP of direct payments we know today that the policy finally got back on track. Others before him failed, but partly because Ireland had done so well from the CAP, he was ideally placed to be poacher turned gamekeeper. The MacSharry reforms, followed by those of Franz Fischler and Marian Fischer-Boel, saved the CAP from imploding over its excesses. As a result the policy managed to stand the test of time. Had the UK not joined the EEC, its deficiency payment structures would have suffered the same fate as agricultural productivity moved into a new era.

Deeming the CAP a success, the EU's Polish farm commissioner, Janusz Wojciechowski, underlined what it had done for countries formerly under communist control that moved from that into modern, market driven agricultural economies. This was down to the CAP, but also to what the UK did then to encourage their escape from communism.

That was a role for which the UK is still admired, despite Brexit. All of these factors are why the EU deemed sixty years of the CAP worthy of celebration. It delivered on its original intentions, albeit too well for many years. It is still regarded as essential to deliver food security and now as a vehicle for tackling climate change. The CAP's founding fathers would be well pleased that the policy is still the basis of a secure food supply in an uncertain world.