Fisheries Implications of “Defining Moment in the History of the EU”

29th May 2014 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy

As the European institutions struggle to absorb the implications of last week’s elections to the European Parliament, it is clear that the seismic shift in popular opinion could carry important implications for fisheries.

The Commissioner, Maria Damanaki, is already on record as saying that the vote means that Europe cannot “continue business as usual.” The Commissioner and the Commission more generally, must take their share of responsibility for the alienation felt by ordinary people to the extent that they have stayed away from the polling booths in droves, or voted for avowedly anti-EU parties.

Fishing has a visibility in the public mind beyond its size, and the failures of the CFP have been a not-unimportant part of the public perception of an unaccountable Commission and out-of-touch Parliament overseeing blunt, frequently ineffective, and sometimes brutal policies. It is not an insult to say that the Commission and MEPs are too ignorant to be allowed to manage European fisheries. It is merely a description of the reality that a small-group of Brussels-based bureaucrats and politicians, whatever their qualifications and personal attributes, cannot possibly hold the detailed knowledge necessary to effectively manage the wide range of complex and diverse range of fisheries found in EU waters. The recent reform of the CFP both recognised and denied this important fact. The scope for member states, cooperating regionally, to play a significant role in policy formation in fisheries will hopefully mark the beginning of what will turn out to be a radical decentralisation of fisheries decision-making. But the EU discard ban (aka landings obligation) carries sufficient hallmarks of the old regime to cause problems in design and implementation. The Commission’s subsequent proposal to apply a blanket ban drift nets that would, if adopted, extinguish a range of sustainable small-scale fisheries, suggests that the Commission’s top-down instincts are not dead, at least up to last week’s vote.

They may however be killed off by the voice of the people. According to the BBC, the vote last week is likely to result in a rebalancing of responsibilities between Europe and the member state, less regulation, and a refocus onto economic growth and jobs.

If this turns out to be true, it would have to have concrete expression in fisheries, through:

· The withdrawal of the proposal to ban drift nets

· Visible and active support for regionalisation

· A departure from superficial, media-focused legislation, when less grandiose but more soundly-based approaches are available

· A genuine determination to remove layers of unnecessary and counterproductive legislation. First on the list should be the removal of effort control (days at see restrictions)

This would be a good start in rolling back the intrusive and and frankly ineffective parts of the Common Fisheries Policy in line with the new democratic realities.