The highly debated European Fisheries Fund (EFF) was on the agenda again at the 22 May European Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting. However, the 25 Member States were unable to agree on how to spend the €3.8 Billion. The major sticking point was whether or not to make EFF eligible for vessel modernisation. The issue will therefore need to be resolved during the 6 month Finnish EU Presidency, which begins July 1st.
EFF – proposal
The Council meeting discussed the proposal that was originally put forward by the European Commission in July 2004, for a Council Regulation to establish the EFF. The EFF is intended to succeed the current Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG), which completes its 6-year term in 2006. Once agreed, this Regulation will introduce new sources of funding to support certain aspects of EU fisheries during the period 2007-2013. The new regulation is expected to come into force in January 2007.
During 2005, the Commission’s proposal for EFF was modified, and a compromise proposal was tabled on 23 May 2005. Although this proposal has been discussed, a number of issues remain unresolved. One of the major stumbling blocks is whether or not to allow the use of EFF funds for the building of new vessels as well as for the purchase of new engines. One of the main points of criticisms from environmental interests is how the Commission and Member States will be able to ensure that capacity of the EU fishing fleets does not increase as a result of engines being replaced, or new vessels being built. Currently, the EU fishing fleet is considered by the European Commission to have an overcapacity of about 40% when compared with the available fish stocks and their ability to recover to sustainable levels.
The question whether or not to use EFF funding for modernisation has been discussed in COREPER – the discussion forum for permanent Member State representatives in Brussels – and the 22 May Fisheries Council meeting was aiming at coming to an agreement on this particular point. However, some Member States, including Estonia, France, Greece, Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain, want to reintroduce provisions for the use of EU public aid for fleet modernisation. Other Member States, including Belgium, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom are opposed to this proposal, and consider any type of capacity enhancement would be a serious step back from the conservation goals set up in the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) reform of 2002.
At the Council meeting, Austria, which currently holds the rotating presidency, tried to put forward a compromise, including aid for replacing engines for small-scale vessels as well as financial incentives for modernising vessels. Belgium, Germany, and UK were against the compromise deal, and Poland abstained. This was enough to create a blocking minority (i.e., there was no need for the rest of the Member States to state their opinions). The issue will likely therefore remain unresolved during the Austrian Presidency. “I’m not disappointed … it’s better to take more time to find a solution. I don’t think there will be any possibility to sort this out before September,” said Josef Proell, Austria’s Agriculture and Environment Minister, in response to the outcome.
It will then fall with the Finnish Presidency to try and seek a compromise, “A real tough question was pushed forward to the Finnish presidency”, commented Juha Korkeaoja, the Finnish Minister of Agriculture and Forestry after the meeting.
It is unclear whether the EFF will be on the agenda at either of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council meetings scheduled for 19 June and 18 July, or if the issue will be held over to the 19 September Council meeting. There are indications that the Commission is pushing for discussions on the EFF for the June and July meetings. However, given the strength of the opposing views of different Member States it may be difficult for them to reach an agreement on what could qualify for EFF funding before the end of this year.