Regionalisation of the CFP

28th May 2012 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy

Regionalisation of the Common Fisheries Policy has moved centre stage since the NFFO (amongst others) advocated it, over a decade ago

Regionalisation of the Common Fisheries Policy has moved centre stage since the NFFO (amongst others) advocated it, over a decade ago, as a counterbalance to the crippling over-centralisation of the CFP. Voices from all quarters can now be heard arguing that a strong regional dimension to the CFP would ensure that management measures could be tailored to the characteristics of specific fleets and fisheries.

Realizing this concept and translating it into a practical set of arrangements that are consistent with the Treaty constraints but flexible enough to bring scientists and stakeholders into the heart of the policy development process, took a step forward recently when six member states agreed and presented a paper to the Council of Ministers and won broad support from other member states.

The paper bears the hallmarks of a compromise document. Nevertheless, it presents a reasoned and convincing case for member states in a given regional sea to work collaboratively with the RACs and scientists to deliver well thought through Multi-annual Plans for the management of the fisheries in that area. If agreed unanimously, the management plan would be presented to the Commission with the expectation that it would be translated into legal form through delegated acts that would be accorded to the Commission. If there was no unanimity, the Plan would have to take the long and laborious route through adoption by the Council and European Parliament through co-decision.

Although is this is not the perfect form that could be imagined for CFP regionalisation it is a mechanism that if adopted as part of the CFP reform could:

  • Speed up fisheries decisions
  • Bring the RACs right into the heart of policy formulation process
  • Break down the compartmentalisation that has afflicted relations between the fishing industry, fisheries managers and fisheries scientists
  • Allow measures to be dropped or changed if they clearly don’t work (contrasting with the present arrangements that are unresponsive and inflexible)
  • Allow a decisive movement away from micro-management and a failed command and control approach
  • Tailor management measures to fleet and fisheries characteristics
  • Build support for management measures by those they affect

Potential obstacles to even this modest form of decentralisation remain however:

  • The Commission may object to their room for manoeuvre (although not their right of initiative) being constrained
  • Having just been given co-decision powers, the European Parliament may try to cling on to some aspects of micromanagement
  • The high level principles, standards and objectives which will still be adopted at European level may contain too much control over the detail of multiannual plans
  • A lot of the practical detail on how regional level cooperation would work remains to be worked out
  • The transition from the current body of inherited legislation to new comprehensive management plans will have to be negotiated
  • In the North Sea, the role of Norway in the development of multi-annual management plans will have to be defined and agreed

Despite the difficulties, this remains the best chance in a generation for a decisive change in the right direction for European fisheries management. If regionalisation is derailed it won’t be because of the fishing industry or the environmental NGOs , or the RACs, have hampered it but because the politicians fail to deliver.

A crucial test for whether regionalisation of European fisheries is going ahead will be at the Council of Ministers meeting in Luxemburg on 19th June. The Danish Presidency will attempt to secure agreement on a “General Approach” on the main CFP reform themes which will essentially be the Council of Ministers negotiating mandate as it enters Trialogue with the Commission and European Parliament. The outcome of which will seal the fate of the CFP – until the next reform in another 10 years.