The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the European Union (EU) has been highly successful in securing the supply of food from Europe's agricultural land. However, new expectations have emerged from society on the functions that agricultural land should deliver, including the expectations that land should regulate and purify water, should sequester carbon to contribute to the mitigation of climate change, should provide a home for biodiversity and allow for the sustainable cycling of nutrients in animal and human waste streams. Through a series of reforms of the CAP, these expectations, or ‘societal demands’ have translated into a myriad of EU and national level policies aimed at safeguarding the sustainability and multifunctionality of European agriculture, resulting in a highly complex regulatory environment for land managers. The current reform of the CAP aims to simultaneously simplify and strengthen policy making on environmental protection and climate action, through the development of Strategic Plans at national level, which allow for more targeted and context-specific policy formation. In this paper, we contribute to the knowledge base underpinning the development of these Strategic Plans by mapping the variation in the societal demands for soil functions across EU Member States, based on an extensive review of the existing policy environment relating to sustainable and multifunctional land management. We show that the societal demands for primary production, water regulation and purification, carbon sequestration, biodiversity and nutrient cycling vary greatly between Member States, as determined by population, farming systems and livestock densities, geo-environmental conditions and landscape configuration. Moreover, the total societal demands for multifunctionality differs between Member States, with the lowest demands found in Member States that have designated the higher shares of EU CAP funding towards ‘Pillar 2′ expenditure, aimed at environmental protection and regional development. We review which lessons can be learnt from these observations, in the context of the proposals for the new CAP for the period 2021–2027, which include enhanced conditionality of direct income support for farmers and the instigation of eco-schemes in Pillar 1, in addition to Agri-Environmental and Climate Measures in Pillar 2. We conclude that the devolution of planning to Strategic Plans at national level provides an opportunity for more effective and targeted incentivisation of sustainable land management, provided that these plans take account for variations in the societal demand for soil functions, as well as the capacity of contrasting soils to deliver on this multifunctionality.