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December Council Overview
This year’s Council of Ministers meeting to decide TACs and quotas for 2009 was held in Brussels between 17th and 19th December.
The UK ministerial team was led by Huw Irranca-Davies and the NFFO was represented by a strong team reflecting the breadth of the Federation’s membership and interests.
The December Council has long been criticised as a dysfunctional way to arrive at decisions that affect many thousands of livelihoods on sea and on land. This year’s proceedings confirmed that despite “front-loading”, which was supposed to ease the pressure and allow more time for deliberative rather than rushed, reactive, decisions, much still needs to be done to improve the process. If anything, the Council decisions were reached with less transparency and more pressure than previous years, despite the fact that the major decisions on a revised cod recovery plan had been taken at the November Council.
The Commission’s proposals for widespread quota reductions on often spurious grounds, along with the French Presidency’s decision to force all significant changes to the Commission’s Proposal into one throw, late in the negotiations, meant that member states were forced into the familiar pattern of defensive damage limitation.
This meant that to a large extent, government officials and industry representatives were denied even the rushed, pressured and inadequate chance to scrutinise changes to the proposals that has become the hallmark of the December negotiations.
Nevertheless, despite these inauspicious conditions, the Ministerial team probably achieved what was achievable, although the results are very mixed depending on which fishery and area is concerned.
Any stresses that might have arisen from the devolved administrations were well managed and were not visible from the outside.
What the Council reinforced once again is that most was achieved where there was close engagement between officials and the main federations from early in the year to prepare viable and realistic positions.