Damanaki “Not Listening”

25th February 2011 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy

Each Commissioner quickly establishes a hallmark of their time in office. For Joe Borge it was a concern to get the balance between governance and conservation right.

For Emma Bonino, it was important to be seen to be tough. For Franz Fischler, it was impatience with the complexities of fishing, which threatened to eat into the time for his real preoccupation – agriculture.

For Maria Damanaki, it is becoming quite apparent that her time at DG Mare will be remembered for the degree to which she ignored the views of the fishing industry.

Whatever the reason, there is a discernible lack of real dialogue between the Commissioner and the fishing sector. This carries implications.

No Commissioner who had read the advice from the regional advisory councils, or talked in any meaningful way to the fishing sector could have entered the October or December negotiations in the way she did; alienating member states and behaving in an imperious manner as the bearer of some “truth” that has escaped the rest of us. It takes a certain talent to manage to get all member states to act in unanimity in opposition to the Commission’s proposal.

The fishing sector has become used to her brief appearances, at this or that meeting or conference, to lecture the participants, before departing to some more pressing appointment. Monologue rather than dialogue.

But it is not only the fishing sector who she is not listening to. As much as anyone, senior fisheries scientists were horrified at the thought that their work and advice would be politicised when she repeated the naive and unhelpful refrain “ just follow the science” - as though raw biological advice didn’t need balancing with management and socio-economic considerations .

Of course, it is not precisely true to say that the Commissioner does not listen to anyone. Doubtless like any unaccountable ruler there will be an inner circle and favourites, who filter the outside world for her. But this is dangerous for her and the rest of us. Only a frank and open dialogue can provide the kind of governance to which the Commission purports aspire.1

All this is having a corrosive effect on the RACs, who expend much time and effort preparing coherent and evidence-based advice, drawing on the wide and deep experience of stakeholders, usually on a consensus basis, only for it to be disregarded like the scribblings of a four year old.

The Commissioner’s political instincts appear to be decidedly top-down. As such there is a manifest contradiction between what she has said that the Commission will propose for CFP reform and her suggested approach to discards, one can now only wait with trepidation for the Commission’s proposals in May/June. Discard Ban and Effort Control

Apart from a fairly obvious attempt to shift the media heat on discards from the CFP onto the member states, what else could possibly account for the high-handed proposals2 that will be tabled by the Commission at the High Level Meeting on discards on 1st March? The Commissioner’s cabinet, or whoever inhabits her inner circle, has reacted to Hugh’s Fish Fight with a classic knee-jerk reaction and cobbled together an approach that flies in the face of RAC advice, hundreds of discard reduction initiatives and the direction of travel in CFP reform. The proposals include:

  • A discard ban
  • Effort control in mixed fisheries
  • A mandatory catch quota system

Whoever the Commissioner is listening to it’s not the fishing industry; it’s not the RACs and it’s certainly not those member states struggling to administer the cod effort regime. And she is certainly not listening to the overwhelming majority of respondents to the Commission’s own consultation who called for an end to this type of top-down management that invariably fails to deliver results. And she’s definitely not listening to the experience of other countries where effort control has been tried and failed.

Just in case this article is misread as suggesting complacency on discards, it is worth noting that total discards by the English fleet have been reduced by 50% over the past decade. Maintaining this progress won’t be helped by this kind of superficial “We must be seen to be doing something approach”.Notes

1 Governance in the EU. Commission White Paper 2001


2 Strictly speaking a suggested policy rather than a formal proposal, a “non-paper” in the jargon.