Outgoing Borg on the Future

10th December 2009 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy

Commissioner Joe Borg, outlined his views on the future direction of travel for Commission policy fisheries

In a wide ranging summary to a recent meeting of the EU Advisory Committee for Fisheries and Aquaculture, the outgoing Commissioner Joe Borg, outlined his views on the future direction of travel for Commission policy fisheries. He acknowledged that his views would not bind the new Commissioner but given the expectation of a large degree of continuity within DG Mare, his comments are certainly worthy of attention.

Relative Stability

The Commissioner made clear that “as it is abundantly clear that virtually no member state would consider abandoning Relative Stability”, the present allocation keys will survive the reform. However the Commissioner had not ruled some degree of change including the replacement of TACs with effort control, “in some fisheries, if an acceptable way of addressing how we would set effort levels in mixed fisheries could be found.” It is clear that the attraction for effort for the Commissioner’s lies in his belief that it is a potential way of reducing or eliminating discards.

Similarly, ITQs are seen as a potential alternative “in some fisheries or fleet segments”. The Commission intends to study the options closely before making its proposal. In any event, the Commissioner was determined that should ITQs be adopted, “protective measures would be required for small-scale operators in coastal fisheries”.

Technical Conservation

The Commissioner had accepted that member states required more time to work on the detail of a new technical conservation regulation which would now be adopted in the context of co-decision making with the European Parliament.

High Grading Ban

Driven by his misplaced top-down approach to discards, the Commissioner indicated that he would use the interim Regulation (to apply all the elements previously in the annexes of the TACs and Quotas Regulation) to extend the ill-considered and unenforceable high grading ban to all Atlantic sea areas.

Discards

The elimination of discards remains the Commissioner’s prime political objective but it remains to be seen if his blunt and ultimately sterile and superficial, top down approach survives his departure.

Norway

The failure of EU and Norway to agree a reciprocal agreement was remarked on by the Commissioner but he seemed reasonably confident that a deal could be concluded, “early in the New Year”.

In the meantime the Commission was considering the setting of provisional TACs for North Sea joint stocks. In the meantime there would be no access for Norwegian fishermen in EU waters and vice versa. Provisional TACS would be set at levels that would not compromise an eventual agreement.

RACs

Regional advisory councils were regarded by the Commissioner as one of the most successful elements in the last CFP reform. They had “helped to resolve difficult issues in a number of fisheries”. The Commission would use the reform to strengthen and reinforce the RACs.CFP Reform

The decentralisation of the CFP as a central part of the forthcoming reform has become a mainstream, generally accepted, proposition, contrary to the 1992 reform when the NFFO and Scottish Fishermen’s Federation first advocated the concept. Commissioner Borg confirmed that decentralisation remained at the heart of the CFP reform

What remains for discussion however, is the all-important detail. What we might consider appropriate in terms of the composition of regional management bodies and its areas of responsibilities might not be identical with the Commission’s view. Toothless regional management bodies with a role tightly circumscribed by the European institutions would quickly lose credibility and purpose. On the other hand, for constitutional reasons alone, it is clear that that the broad principles and standards and policy framework will remain with the European institutions. This leaves wide scope for discretion and defining the new CFP governance structures with precision will be a major focus in the coming months.

The Commissioner was clear that the Commission would not abdicate its responsibilities for setting broad policy context and history does not record many groups surrendering their power and authority voluntarily. All this suggests that that coming months will be critical in shaping the future CFP and that there is much to play for.

The NFFO has been at the forefront of the CFP reform debate to date and intends to be so over the course of the coming year, leading up to the publication of the Commission’s proposal in 2011.