CFP Conference Marks New Stage in Reform Process

12th May 2010 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy

A major conference on the main CFP reform marked the end of one phase and the beginning of another, as the Commission closes down its external consultations and now moves to prepare its proposals and agree them internally within the College of Commissioners.

The conference, held in A Coruna, in Spain, marked the end of the consultative phase that began with the publication of the Green Paper on CFP reform. The Commission’s internal deliberations are expected to take around six months, after which proposals will be presented to the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.

It is now clear that regionalisation will play a major role in the reform but it is far from clear what this will mean in practice. The Commission appears to recognise that the one-size-fits-all approach lies at the heart of many of the current CFP’s failings. After the Lisbon Treaty extended co-decision making to the European Parliament, the kind of micro-management that has encumbered European fisheries is even less tenable. However, it is clear that the EU Treaties severely limit the extent to which legal decision making jurisdiction can be transferred to regional bodies, even if these are comprised of all the member states with fisheries in a given sea basin. The challenge is to find a way to decentralise policy formulation whilst leaving formal decision making structures intact. There are simple ways to do this and there are over-complex ways and the fear is now that the Commission is planning an over-elaborate structure that is as dysfunctional as the current system and simply adds another layer of bureaucracy.

The core of a successful decentralised regional body would lie with fisheries managers, fishermen and fisheries scientists from the relevant member states working together on long term management plans, technical measures etc. There is a very real danger that by embracing a misplaced inclusiveness, a top-heavy and cumbersome body will result. If this is the outcome it would be a good idea – regional management – spoiled by poor implementation.

On a more positive note, the NFFO’s concrete ideas for giving the fishing industry responsibility through approved and audited sustainable fishing plans has been seen positively by the Commission and are likely to feature in the final proposals, at least as far as anyone outside the Commission’s inner circles can judge.

The Commission’s game plan includes an indirect challenge to relative stability through it plans to introduce some form of international transferable rights, although this is certain to run into serious opposition from member states – only Spain has spoken in favour of a move in this direction. A differentiated regime separating inshore from offshore fleets is likely to figure in the Commission’s proposal as part of this approach, although the definition of “small-scale” excludes trawlers.

Regional advisory councils are seen as one of the most positive developments arising from the 2002 reforms but there are also fears that the RACs could be undermined in a badly designed regional set up. On the other hand, strengthened RACs could operate very well and very closely with a sea-basin regional management body.

The NFFO will continue to work at the highest levels to ensure that the forthcoming reform uses all the opportunities and avoids all the pitfalls associated with the process.