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Member of the European Commission Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime
Conference of Fisheries Ministers
I am delighted to be here today and to have this opportunity to present you with an overview of my two fields of responsibility within the European Commission. I will, first, focus upon the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, with emphasis on developments that have taken place over the past two to three years since the 2002 reform of the policy. I will then present the state of play with regard to a new Europe-wide Maritime Policy that I have been mandated to look into.
Europe as a whole has a strong maritime identity. Located between two oceans and four seas, Europe is a large peninsula with thousands of kilometres of coastline. Oceans and seas are of considerable economic importance in sustaining hundreds of thousands of jobs in sea-related industries such as fisheries, tourism, transport and energy. And they are also important to us in terms of leisure and sport.
However, the seas are also fragile ecosystems suffering from pollution, eutrophication, habitat disturbance and climate change. Fisheries too, have, all too often, been an important contributor to the degradation of certain marine ecosystems. In the past, managers failed to protect fish stocks from overexploitation, excessive fishing capacity and inappropriate fishing methods and practices.
However now the scientists are giving us a clear message: many of our fish stocks are outside safe biological limits. Clearly something must be done, and done in order to ensure the sustainability of our fishing industry.
The 2002 reform of the Common Fisheries Policy was a turning-point in making sustainability, and environmental and economic concerns the central idea of the CFP. I will briefly outline the main elements of the reform and then describe how this has been put into practice during the two years since. I will also say a few words about the fisheries relations between the EU and Iceland.
However let me start by recalling why we have an EU Common Fisheries Policy in the first place.
It is true that fish do not recognise human boundaries. It is also true that fishermen have traditionally conducted their fishing activities in the waters of countries other than those of their country of origin. Moreover, most of these fishing activities target more than one species at the same time.
Therefore, putting in place a common framework for the conservation of fisheries within the EU is necessary to ensure that all parties share responsibility for the management and monitoring of the stocks concerned. A common policy is also useful as it eliminates the less efficient and time-consuming alternative of negotiating bi- or multilateral treaties which would have to be agreed between Member States for each and every stock.
In reforming the CFP we chose to take this logic one step further. We wanted it to no longer focus solely on conservation, but also on the interests of the fishing industry and of the coastal communities dependent on fisheries. The CFP today, for example, foresees that in view of the precarious economic state of the fishing industry and the dependence of several coastal communities on fishing, it is necessary to ensure some stability in the fishing activities. Every member state is therefore entitled to a predictable share of the stocks on the basis of its historical catches, which in EU jargon is called the principle of relative stability.
When in December 2002 the EU embarked on the most far-reaching reform of this Community policy since its creation, the aim was to redress its deficiencies. Essentially, the policy had failed to deliver fully both on ensuring the viability of the fisheries sector and on preserving fish stocks. So our new policy was designed to focus on four core elements:
Firstly, we today follow a long-term approach for managing Community fish stocks. Short-term decision-making on an annual basis is gradually being replaced by multi-annual recovery plans for those stocks that are in danger of collapsing. Alternatively multi-annual management plans are established for healthy stocks.
Recovery plans are proposed for stocks in danger: The Commission has presented four proposals of this nature to date. These recovery plans limit the time fishermen can spend at sea, so as to ensure that the catch limits are adhered to. Very big landings of a species can also only take place after prior notification of the port authorities so that a proper inspection can be carried out.
Two such recovery plans are already in place: one for several cod stocks - including the North Sea stock and another for the Northern hake stock. The Commission is developing further proposals for recovery plans, such as for cod in the Baltic Sea. We are also developing proposals for long-term management plans for North Sea flatfish.
Secondly, in the CFP reform we introduced simpler and more effective rules for limiting fishing capacity. No increases in capacity are allowed and reductions in capacity are targeted towards the newly introduced recovery and management plans so as to ensure that the capacity of the fleets is matched to available resources. Public aid for construction and modernisation of fishing vessels that could increase capacity, or generally for the transfer of EU vessels to third countries (except for humanitarian purposes to help fishermen struck by the Indian Ocean Tsunami disaster), has also been phased out.
Thirdly, control and enforcement has been strengthened to create a level playing-field. We are monitoring national control systems more strictly than in the past and have launched a number of infringement procedures against Member States which are not properly enforcing fisheries rules. A major new development in this area of control is the Community Fisheries Control Agency that will be established in Spain over the coming months and should be fully operational in the first quarter of 2006. The basic idea is that Member States will pool their control resources and allow inspections under the aegis of the Agency to take place within each other’s waters. This should allow for better implementation of pre-agreed monitoring programmes through the pooling of control and inspection resources, improved cost-effectiveness and a general increase in the standard and level of control.
Finally, the CFP reform also means the better involvement of stakeholders in the decision-making process through the establishment of Regional Advisory Councils, or RACs. These councils bring together representatives of the fisheries sector and other stakeholders, on a regional basis, to give advice and make suggestions in relation to fisheries management. Two RACs are already in operation – one for the North Sea and another for the Pelagic sector. A third RAC for the North Western Waters is expected to enter into operation by the end of this month and by the first half of next year, we expect a further two RACs to be set up: one for the South Western Waters and another for the Baltic Sea.
Also with a view to better involve stakeholders, the Commission holds ad hoc meetings to discuss topical subjects, such as fishing quotas, with fishermen’s representatives, processors, environmental NGOs and consumer organisations. Through this, we succeed in involving stakeholders at an early stage in the decision-making process.
These were the fundamental concepts of the 2002 reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, some of which have already proved to be successful, whilst for certain others, it is still too early to make an assessment.
I am pleased to say that overall the picture is positive: we have made significant progress in the right direction. The process of cutting back on fishing to replenish stocks may sometimes have to be more gradual than the immediate, one-step correction that some scientists would prefer. We try to avoid asking the fishing industry to accept sudden and large reductions in fishing except in critical cases of over-fishing, as severe shocks to the industry can have wide-ranging social, as well as economic, consequences. But the basic direction of our policy remains the same: the implementation of a new EU management framework with special emphasis on multi-annual management plans, a reduction in the size of the fishing fleet, the end of public aid for the building of new fishing vessels, the promotion of environmentally-friendly fishing methods and the establishment of recovery plans for particularly over-exploited stocks. All this is intended to fundamentally change past behaviour.
We still have some way to go, however, before achieving sustainable fisheries and a secure economic future for our fisheries sector.
One area where this is true and which I would like to mention in particular, since it also heavily involves Iceland, is the multilateral management of straddling stocks in the North East Atlantic. For two of the most important of these stocks, blue whiting and “Atlanto-Scandian herring”, we do not yet have international agreements on management. This has led to an Olympic fishery, where catches of blue whiting for example, have increased from around 600,000 to almost 2.5 million tonnes.
The example, which I have mentioned, raises the question: Is the current multilateral management framework with its mixture of coastal state and NEAFC decisions able to live up to the commitments we have? The answer is, no, or at least, not yet, as we are currently looking for ways to strengthen NEAFC and its regulatory powers. In the interim it is time to step back and take a fresh look at how we deal with these multilateral issues. This is one of many areas where I think there are great mutual benefits to reap for Iceland and the European Community if we work together along the same lines.
Another issue where we must improve our performance is in relation to discards – an area where Iceland already has considerable experience. The Council has agreed with the Commission that we need action in this area. Our first challenge is to improve the selectivity of fishing, in order to catch fewer immature fish. A second challenge is to examine whether limitations, or even bans, on discards can be established in at least some Community fisheries. The Commission is working on a number of projects, which we hope to be able to launch later this year. We are most certainly interested in exchanging views with you on this. I think we all agree on the importance of giving alternatives to discards to fishermen and in this respect, your experience of discard-limiting measures is valuable food for thought for us.
In conclusion, major steps towards sustainability have been taken in recent years within the framework of the Common Fisheries Policy. Yet still more needs to be done before we attain our objectives. I am convinced that we should take these steps hand in hand with our partners, like Iceland.
Iceland is a close partner to the Community. It entered into the agreement on the European Economic Area in 1992 and can thereby participate in most sectors of the internal market. However, agriculture and fisheries are not included in the EEA agreement, which means that we have to deal with these issues on a bilateral basis. In general we have a good level of co-operation. Apart from our bilateral fisheries agreement, we are working together closely in international fisheries organisations such as the North East Atlantic Fisheries Council (NEAFC), Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (NAFO), South East Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (SEAFO) and North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO).
It is obvious that Iceland and the EU share common goals. Our main concern is that our fisheries policies have not been able to stabilise the abundance of fish in our waters and we both want to make our policies more sustainable.
Fisheries management is one example out of many which, despite certain disagreement at times, demonstrates our increasingly converging objectives and approach. There are countless areas where we see eye to eye. We must build on these common positions, not only because we are neighbours and the actions of one closely impact on the other, but also because we have a responsibility to our citizens to give them the best possible future.
It is of course up to Iceland to determine how and to which degree it wishes to interact with the EU. Whatever the choice will be, I think we have a strong case for working together. We share common values that will make any co-operation between us bear fruit.
Let me just say that in my own country we had a long and often passionate discussion about the issue of EU membership, before finally deciding in 2003 that we wanted to join the European Union the following year. We did this knowing that the EU is not a panacea for all the challenges we face. We also did this safe in the knowledge that it is not an institution where the bigger countries impose their will on the smaller ones. I, personally, am ever more convinced that joining the Union was the right thing to do for Malta and I am today glad to see my country already reaping the rewards of membership.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me now turn to the Maritime Policy which is currently being developed within the European Union. I will take this opportunity to give you an idea of where we are now, and where we are headed for the future.
The Commission is in the process of preparing a consultative document, a so called Green Paper to use EU jargon, on an all-embracing Maritime Policy. The Green Paper is foreseen to be published in the first semester of 2006 and will be the basis for a broad consultation of interested parties. The Commission has already received input from interested stakeholders and continues to welcome additional contributions.
The Green Paper will address economic, environmental and social challenges pertaining to the oceans and seas in a comprehensive manner. Governance issues will also be addressed. The objective will be to establish options for a maritime policy optimizing the sustainable benefits Europe draws from ocean and sea related activities, while specifically addressing employment and economic growth.
The Green Paper will suggest methods in which the comparative advantage of the various European maritime sectors can be maintained. This will include the competitiveness of transport, energy, employment, fisheries, tourism and leisure in the face of global competition.
The protection of the marine environment will also be an important theme of the Green Paper both in EU waters and internationally, as this will be crucial to the notion of sustainable use of the oceans and seas.
The Commission has intensified its dialogue with the United Nations bodies and other international organizations as well as non-member state countries such as Canada, Australia and the United States, in order to identify and learn from the best practices relating to integrated ocean policies and to explore possibilities for strengthening international cooperation in this area.
While looking abroad to learn from other’s experiences, the Commission is conscious of the fact that the relationship that Europe has with its oceans and seas may be very different than that of other countries. An example of this is the strength of European Maritime industries and services and their global importance as a backbone for international trade. Another example is the specific needs of the differing maritime regions surrounding Europe which must all be considered and taken into account in the creation of a future maritime policy.
In order to strengthen the knowledge base for a European Maritime Policy and ensure the continued competitiveness of our sectors, it is crucial to assume leadership in research and development relating to both the natural conditions of oceans and seas as well as technologies to be used in ocean and sea related activities. Building on existing policies of the Union, the Green Paper will explore options for the future in this respect.
The Green Paper will also address options to make maritime professions more attractive and to strengthen education and training for these professions thereby contributing to the increase in stewardship and the regaining of Europe’s Maritime heritage. This will assist the industry with a problem they currently face of meeting the demand for qualified personnel.
All in all, the Green Paper will serve as a first step towards working with Member States and other stakeholders, both sectorally and regionally, to revive public perception of the importance of Europe’s maritime traditions, and its current strengths in the maritime sector.
We are well aware of Iceland’s Oceans Policy entitled “The Ocean – Iceland’s Policy” adopted in June 2004 and recognize its objective of maintaining a healthy ocean environment in order to ensure sustainable utilization, while allowing the ocean to remain a mainstay of the economy.
I can assure you that Iceland’s policy stressing that scientific research and increased knowledge of the marine ecosystem are the premises for further progress in comprehensive resource management, is also an important issue for the Commission.
I look forward to an exchange of ideas with you on this issue during my stay here in Iceland and of course, to widening the debate to include all those of you present today both on fisheries and maritime policy.
Thank you for your attention.