The Commissioner argued that none of the endemic failings of the CFP: overfishing, overcapacity and discarding, will not be solved by the General Approach that has been proposed by the Danish Presidency.
Damanaki lambasted Member States for attempting to water down measures that would rebuild fish stocks, stating that “this is not a new commitment, we agreed to (maximum sustainable yield (MSY)) 30 years ago, then 10 years ago and once again 6 years ago…it looks like procrastination is an irresistible temptation”. Having proposed fish stocks being rebuilt by 2015 through a MSY approach, the Commission has found that several European states have attempted to undermine such efforts and continue overfishing.
She stressed that the proposed General Approach will delay the recovery of stocks until 2020 and thereby harm the economic prospects of fishermen, who would not be able to reap the benefits of larger stocks. The Swedish Minister, Eskil Erlandsson, shared this sentiment and emphasised that the deal on the table was not ambitious enough. Rather, fish stocks should be managed above MSY by 2015, as the faster we get there, the faster we give fishermen the opportunity to increase their income.
On discards, the Commissioner was pleased that the principle of banning the practice was shared by the Council, but that efforts to attach the discard ban to multiannual plans (MAPs) was not acceptable. Currently, no MAPs can be agreed by the EU due to a political deadlock between the Council and Parliament. As such, sceptical Ministers thought they could agree to a discard ban, in the knowledge that it would not be implemented in the near future. Damanaki stated that “the discard ban is the heart of the reform. Without this there is no sustainability in fisheries….it must be in the Basic Regulation”.
One further criticism related to measures dealing with overcapacity. The European Court of Auditors identified this as the key failing of the CFP, and several Member States have failed to fulfil their capacity evaluation obligations. As such, the Commission had proposed a mandatory transferable fishing concession (TFC) system, which would have led to the quasi-privatisation of fishing access. This was however rejected by a majority of Member States, NGOs and parliamentarians. The Commissioner responded to this by emphasising the need for an effective and binding fleet management tool to be agreed in place of TFCs.
By agreeing its General Approach position before the European Parliament, who according to the protocol for EU legislation after co-decision have the first reading, it seems the Council are laying down the gauntlet and attempting to pre-empt and water down the Commission proposals. This tactic has been condemned by several NGOs, who have requested Member States to reject the process. This evening we will know the outcome from the Council meeting, and learn whether a General Approach has been agreed by the Council.