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And we have a bedside rug…June Council: Reaction to the General Approach

Published: 13/06/2012

Early this morning, the EU Fisheries Council came to an agreement on a General Approach to the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. Some countries voted against the heavily watered down compromise, but not sufficient to block an agreement.

The Fisheries Council has agreed to a General Approach to the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, specifically on the proposed basic Regulation (COM(2011)425) and a new Common Market Organisation (COM(2011)416), despite opposition from Sweden, the Netherlands, Malta, Greece, Slovenia and Portugal. A disappointed Commissioner Damanaki responded to the General Approach, stating that “it is a fact that the Commission proposal for CFP reform is more ambitious than the [Council] text we have now”. Even though the details of the deal are not yet available, it is clear that further compromises were being made during the night and that some text still need to be hammered out in technical working groups, particularly with regard to the discard ban.

The Danish Presidency compromise proposal that was on the table at the start of the meeting left a lot to be desired from an environmental point of view. It contained a revised objective on Maximum Sustainable Yield, delaying implementation of even fishing mortality (FMSY) for some stocks until 2020 – meaning that rebuilding of some stocks may take years or decades depending on their fecundity. Baselines also shifted regarding implementation in mixed fisheries, where the state of vulnerable stocks would no longer guide management but instead be subject to other conservation measures, with only “significant stocks” being restored to MSY levels [N.B. we do not know if the wording on this remains the same in the final agreement].

It seems that most of the discussion last night was focused on the proposed discard ban, another section that had already been weakened by earlier discussions in the Council. France, in particular, is pleased with delaying it further and the text is now so full of loopholes that both Sweden and the Netherlands oppose the General Approach altogether. The Council also agreed on text to enable increased regionalisation of the Common Fisheries Policy.

Even though the new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund was not included in the General Approach, it was clearly debated and rather worryingly it seems that a majority of countries are calling for fleet subsidies to be reintroduced. Further negotiations on this will take place in the autumn during the Cyprus Presidency.

The Council agreement has been met by disappointment from both Parliamentarians and the environmental movement. Chris Davies (ALDE, UK) responded to the Council by stating that “for governments to say that we should stop overfishing but perhaps not for another eight years is little short of madness”. While Markus Knigge, advisor to OCEAN2012, criticised Member States, arguing that “EU fisheries ministers have continued their record of mismanagement by delaying the ending of overfishing in the EU and by its fleet globally. We are now looking to the European Parliament to support a Common Fisheries Policy reform that delivers a healthy marine environment and viable fisheries dependent communities”.

“This is another opportunity lost for EU fisheries. In the Green Paper, we were told of the great inadequacies of the current EU fisheries policy and the need for a radical reform to transform it. Well, with the Council it may have started out a tiger, but ended up a bedside rug. Our hope now lies with the European Parliament, but it will be an uphill battle after last night’s deal”, says Niki Sporrong, Director of the Fisheries Secretariat (FISH).