Member of the European Commission - Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs
'The Common Fisheries Policy: charting the course ahead'
European Policy Centre Policy Dialogue on the future of the Common Fisheries Policy
Brussels, 16 June 2009
Thank you Fabian (Zuleeg), for your kind words of introduction.
Distinguished Members of the Panel,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an immense pleasure to be here with my fellow panellists to discuss the future of the European Union's Common Fisheries Policy. Once again, I owe my thanks to the EPC for not only inviting me to speak on this panel but more importantly, for putting this issue on our agenda today.
The European Policy Centre can always be relied on to create and stimulate the right kind of debate. I am confident that today's exchange of opinions and ideas will be no exception. I genuinely look forward to having the opportunity to discuss with you the way ahead for what is, often, a much-criticised common policy.
I am reassured that today we will have a unique discussion of the vast array of ideas and standpoints surrounding the whole issue of the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. I also feel comfortable in the knowledge - from a quick look around the room - that there are present here many of our stakeholders and partners with whom we have undertaken fruitful work in the past and who have much to contribute to the task ahead.
Allow me therefore to start by saying that what we need to undertake is a root and branch reform that will bring about a real and lasting difference to Europe's fisheries sector.
And bringing that about cannot wait any longer.
We have seen steady progress towards our goal of making fishing activities sustainable in environmental, economic and social terms since the last reform of the CFP in 2002 – a reform agenda which we continue to pursue vigorously today. That said, however, the situation remains less than perfect.
Allow me to repeat here some well known facts:
Most fish stocks in EU waters are over fished upsetting the ecological balance of our oceans.
Catches have fallen to such an extent that Europe now relies on imports for two-thirds of its fish.
Prices tend to be rather sticky and do not follow what one would consider the 'normal' rules of supply and demand.
Incomes are also falling.
And yet, while we might be tempted to resolve some of these issues by spending more days at sea to catch more fish, the problem is that fish stocks are dwindling to such an extent due to the pressure that they have suffered in the past, that this is actually the last thing we should do.
The situation is currently one where too many fishing vessels chase too few fish. We have a situation of overcapacity which not only harms fish stocks but, together with sticky prices, also drives down the overall profitability of the sector, leaving both fishermen and coastal communities in a precarious position. The current global economic downturn, compounded by intermittent hikes in fuel prices, has also further exposed the already-vulnerable European fisheries sector.
Structural changes are more necessary than ever if we want a healthy marine environment which can support an economically robust fishing industry.
We therefore need to restore the productivity of our oceans and seas.
We need a marine environment that is capable of generating a healthy income for our fishing industry, and, we need to be able to supply nutritious, sustainably harvested food for our citizens.
To kick-start this reform, due to be completed in 2012, last April we issued a Green Paper on CFP reform which seeks to analyse the current situation and pose a series of questions to which all of Europe's citizens are invited to respond. This will stimulate what I hope will be a wide-ranging consultation.
The initial response has already been most encouraging. Firstly, Europe's fisheries ministers have welcomed both our analysis and our general approach to CFP reform. There is broad consensus among them as to the need for an overhaul of EU fisheries policy.
Secondly, the launch of the reform process has enjoyed wide media coverage which has demonstrated that we are all, by and large, in agreement that comprehensive reform is necessary. It also signals that the public is expecting decisive action.
Thirdly, the first replies from European citizens to the questions posed in our Green Paper are already being received. We look forward to analysing these and many more between now and the end of the year.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
At this stage, all options are open. There are no such things as no-go areas.
Having said that, I nevertheless believe, we can agree on a number of broad aims which should govern our long-term approach to achieving sustainable fisheries.
First of all, the CFP needs more sharply focused objectives.
For many years ecological sustainability has been compromised in order to cushion short-term economic or social difficulties. This has led to a decline in stocks – and eventually, of course, to a decline in the economic and social welfare of fishermen. The fishing sector has lost immense potential fishing opportunities, because we have accepted over fishing far beyond what the stocks could take. In order to help the industry become both economically viable and robust, to stimulate growth in coastal communities and to provide Europe's consumers with fish from sustainable sources, it is crucial that decisions taken under the reformed CFP uphold the principle of ecological sustainability. Once that building block is in place, the economic and social sustainability that we rightly seek will follow.
Secondly, the policy should be efficient, cost-effective, simple and easy to administer. We need to move away from short-term micro-management to a situation in which decisions can be taken at a level much closer to the people they affect. An option worth considering is giving the CFP a deeper regional dimension, where detailed, implementing decisions respond more accurately to the specifics of our regional seas while being based on standards and principles decided at Community level. In this way, we can enforce the long-term focus of the policy and maintain a common policy while moving many decisions closer to the people concerned. Reporting obligations can also be kept to a minimum and in this way, further simplify the whole process.
Alongside this, a wide range of sea-related policies will become progressively more integrated through our Integrated Maritime Policy. Fisheries will no longer operate in isolation. Instead, its activities will gel with others, such as coastal development and climate change mitigation. An illustration of this trend can already be seen in the environmental pillar of the Maritime Policy, the Marine Strategy Directive which sets regional quality objectives that have a direct bearing on the CFP.
Closely allied to this, is the issue of how we can strengthen the involvement of industry. The current approach to fisheries management remains essentially top-down. Giving the sector greater ownership of the policy – the opportunity to 'self-manage' - should encourage it to develop the much-needed solutions to the range of problems that exist.
In working to build sustainable fisheries, the industry can count on two powerful allies: the market and consumers. European consumers are now increasingly demanding guarantees that the fish they buy are from sustainable sources. The major retail chains, which know better than any what their consumers want, are demanding the same. This can only be a good thing. It would be wise to tap into this increased consumer awareness and consumers' basic willingness to support sustainable fishing by promoting transparency and certification.
To this end, we are currently working on a Regulation on minimum criteria for eco-labelling. We believe that, by helping fishermen to tailor-make their catches to the markets they are serving and in so doing to satisfy consumers, fishermen can get more for their efforts. At the same time as meeting market needs and helping to remove some of the price stickiness of fisheries products, we would also be encouraging sustainability.
A further broad aim concerns the policy's external dimension. The CFP must be even-handed in governing the activities of our fleets both in, and beyond, EU waters. Likewise, our conduct outside EU waters stands to benefit if it is influenced by our Integrated Maritime Policy's aims to improve the global governance of the seas and oceans. We have already made some inroads here in for example, our recently adopted shark action plan, the work undertaken for the phasing out of certain destructive fishing practices such as bottom trawling, and in the combat against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities and in rendering European markets inaccessible to them.
It goes without saying that the CFP's external dimension must also be in line with EU policies in other areas such as development and of course, with our international commitments. For this to happen, we need to together learn how we can achieve a number of core objectives. For example, how can we make the EU a more forceful international player in pursuing the good governance of the seas and oceans? How can we push for more responsible fisheries in all international organisations, including the UN, FAO and regional fisheries organisations? We also want to improve the use of the bilateral agreements which we conclude with non-EU countries, so that we can promote EU investment and assist developing countries to better manage their maritime natural resources.
The final aim that guides our reform agenda lies in securing robust scientific knowledge and data to feed into the decisions taken under the Common Fisheries Policy. We need, for instance, to ensure that we have a good foundation to understand the emerging challenges in the deep sea and that we are on the frontline of knowledge regarding the impact of climate change on marine ecosystems.
We also need fisheries research to take place in concert with other marine issues, in line with the integrated maritime approach which was highlighted, among others, in the recent Communication on a European Strategy for Marine and Maritime Research. Better communication between scientists, policy-makers and stakeholders will also be a crucial factor in making the CFP work.
These are just some of the matters we need to discuss ahead of the CFP reform. Our Green Paper will raise many other questions on a whole range of issues, including on improving compliance with the rules and on possible alternative systems for allocating fishing rights.
There is a wealth of experience and best practice within the Union from which we can draw a host of constructive ideas for the future of the Common Fisheries Policy. That should not, however, prevent us from casting our reform net out more widely.
We should also look at best practice among our peers outside the EU whose work on responsible management has been tried and tested.
In this regard we can point to the example of the discards ban for a number of commercial species in Norway. We share Norway's concern on discards, for we cannot achieve sustainability in fisheries without taking action on discards. We have begun to do just that by putting in place a high grading ban in the North Sea in 2009 and by introducing selective gears in the whitefish fishery. We would like to widen the high grading ban to all other Community waters in 2010. Furthermore the CFP reform process will provide a golden opportunity to pursue further anti-discard measures, the final ambition being the complete eradication of this practice once and for all.
I am very pleased that Ambassador Sletnes has joined us for this debate today. Norway and the EU have much that they can learn from each other's experiences. While exchanging ideas will help us achieve our ambitious reform of the CFP, I am convinced that it will also serve to enhance fisheries co-operation between Norway and the EU in the future. Norway is already a key ally in combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing practices. We also share and jointly manage a number of fish stocks. I am therefore confident that our close co-operation will continue to flourish and will be further strengthened.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Now that we have published our ambitious consultation document on the future of the Common Fisheries Policy, we can start charting the course ahead.
As I have said on other occasions, our ambition is not to launch "just another reform", but rather to prepare the ground for a quantum leap for the CFP. I know that we can count on you to do your bit to inspire an informed public debate on the future of Europe's fisheries.
I am in absolutely no doubt that Europe's fisheries have a future: it is however up to us to shape it. By working together I believe that we can overcome a number of weaknesses which the EU's Common Fisheries Policy has inherited from the past and fashion an ambitious policy able to respond fully to the realities and concerns of the 21st century.