Sustainability and Governance

15th February 2012 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy

After 20 years of what we could politely call sub-optimal performance of the CFP's resource policies, you might be surprised to find that the solutions are to be found on You Tube.

The Nobel laureate for economics, Elinor Ostrom, is there on video to explain her life-work on common property resources, the relationship between governance and sustainable resource management.

Essentially, her key insights are:

  • That resource management at the appropriate scale can overcome the inherent problems in managing common property resource
  • That the involvement and participation of the key stakeholders is critical
  • That poly-centric governance facilitates these kind of positive outcomes
  • That governance arrangements must give room (and time) for resource users to develop their own, tailored, solutions
  • That centralised, top-down, one-size fits all policies provide no panacea and will repeatedly fail
  • That the role of the centre should be to provide oversight rather than prescriptive micro-management

All of this has the most profound relevance for the current reform of the CFP.

It is certainly possible to read into the CFP Reform Green Paper an appreciation of these insights.

The transfer of responsibility to the regional level, and to the industry itself ,(think poly centric arrangements) are at the centre of the Green Papers vision of a new and more effective CFP.

The question that now faces us is to what extent the Commission's reform proposals reflect and deliver the change that is necessary to decentralise the CFP and the degree to which the co-legislators will accept this delegation of responsibility.

On this there are reasons to be far from optimistic:

The Commission rhetoric surrounding the proposal suggests a radical decentralisation of decision-making. But a closer scrutiny suggests that real detailed control would remain at the centre with only responsibility for implementing those decisions delegated.

Some crucial questions are posed?

  • Can an institution such as the European Commission created to coordinate centrally delegate meaningfully?
  • Is there even the legal authority within the Treaties to do so?
  • And how likely is it that the European Parliament which has just been given co-decision authority under the Lisbon Treaty will resist the temptation hang on to its scope to micro-manage?
  • Finally having had their fingers burnt with notional delegation of implementation in the EU Cod Management Plan, how many member states will sign up for decentralisation?

Yet the insights made by Prof. Ostrom are there for all to see.

Effective resource management requires decentralisation; it requires arrangements that encourage a much greater level of involvement and participation by the resource users. It requires a decisive move away from a command and control mindset. In a nutshell it requires all the conditions that Prof. Ostrom spells out in her work.

Our fear is that this reform will not succeed in putting those conditions in place and the CFP will face a decade of centralised paralysis (worse than before because of co-decision without decentralisation) until the next reform in 2023.

We hope that we are wrong but the signs are not good.