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Member of the European Commission Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs
The Common Fisheries Policy: charting the course ahead
Structured dialogue at the Committee of the Regions
Brussels, 29 June 2009.
Dear Mr President,
Esteemed Members of the Committee,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Many thanks for inviting me to speak to your Committee on the future of the European Union's Common Fisheries Policy.
We meet today, at a crucial time for the future of our coasts and seas. With the recent publication of the Green Paper, we have launched a discussion about the future form of the Common Fisheries Policy – a policy that has a direct bearing on our maritime areas.
I look forward to discussing this reform with you today, and in the months ahead, as I look forward to continuing the healthy tradition of co-operation that has always existed between us. I will be relying on you to play a pivotal role in helping us gather a broad spectrum of views so as to make a real and lasting difference to Europe's fisheries sector.
Despite steady progress towards our goal of making fishing activities sustainable in environmental, economic and social terms since the 2002 CFP reform – a reform agenda which we continue to pursue vigorously – the situation remains far from perfect.
The current global economic downturn, compounded by intermittent hikes in fuel prices, has exposed the vulnerability of Europe's fisheries sector. Structural changes are more inevitable than ever if we want our fishing industry to become economically robust and to achieve lasting sustainability.
Most fish stocks in EU waters are overfished. Catches have fallen to such an extent that Europe now relies on imports for two-thirds of its fish. Fleet overcapacity is economically inefficient and is a main driver for overfishing.
Undoubtedly, the present situation is unhealthy: it is driving the overall profitability of the sector down and it also exposes many fishermen and coastal communities to serious problems whenever the economic environment becomes harsh.
It is therefore high time that we restored the productivity of our oceans and seas.
We need a healthy and sustainable marine environment capable of generating wealth for our fishing industry and nutritious food for our citizens.
The discussions we will be having today will focus on the Commission's recent Green Paper on CFP reform which launched a comprehensive consultation on all aspects of fisheries policy. We need to work out how we will deliver sustainable fisheries and lasting solutions to the way in which we manage our fisheries resources in Europe.
The Green Paper starts by analysing the current situation and then poses a series of questions to which all of Europe's citizens are invited to respond.
As I mentioned earlier, we will be seeking to get as wide a feedback as possible on the way we should move forward. Yet it is important to point out, at this early stage, that all aspects of the Common Fisheries Policy as we know it ought to be looked into and no long-held taboos need remain unchallenged.
That said, I do however believe that there are a number of broad aims which should govern our long-term approach to fisheries management and that can help us deliver sustainability.
First of all, the CFP needs more sharply focused objectives. For many years, ecological sustainability has been compromised so as to cushion short-term economic or social difficulties. This has led to a decline in the state of stocks – and eventually, of course, in the economic and social fortunes of fishermen. The fishing sector has lost immense potential fishing opportunities because we have accepted, time and again, fishing far beyond what the stocks could sustain.
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 truly 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. By positioning ecological sustainability in that way, we are not attempting to make it hierarchically superior. We are in reality seeking to guarantee fishermen's future.
Secondly, the policy should be effective, simple, and closer to the people. 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 most immediately affect.
One 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. Member States in a given sea-basin region could together co-operate on decisions as to how fisheries in the region should be managed in line with Community principles, with a view to supporting a vibrant sector that produces seafood from healthy ecosystems. In this way, we can sustain a long-term focus for the policy and maintain it as a common policy, while moving many decisions closer to the people and thereby responding to local needs.
Such regionalisation should also bring about an improvement in the present level of stakeholder involvement. Under the last reform undertaken in 2002, we established what are known as Regional Advisory Committees: bodies that are central to providing us with advice and facilitating discussions between stakeholders, policy-makers and scientists. A deeper regional dimension to the policy will further enhance the roles of such regional stakeholder bodies.
Closely allied to this is the issue of how we can involve the industry more thoroughly.
The best way to do that, I believe, is by giving it more responsibility. The current approach to fisheries management remains essentially top-down. Giving the sector greater ownership of the policy should encourage it to develop much-needed solutions to the range of problems that exist. Empowering the industry to "self-manage" would, to a large extent, involve it in taking responsibility for sustainable fisheries.
In working to build sustainable fisheries, the industry can count on two powerful allies: the market and consumers. As I mentioned earlier, European consumers are now increasingly demanding guarantees that the fish they buy are from sustainable sources. The major retail chains, which know better than anyone else what their consumers want, are demanding the same. This can only be a good thing. It is what we want for future fisheries. It would be wise to tap into this increased consumer awareness and the consumer's willingness to support sustainable fishing, by seeking to promote transparency and certification. To this end, we are currently working on a Regulation on minimum criteria for eco-labelling.
We also believe that, if fishermen tailor their catches more closely to the markets they serve, they could get a better return for those catches. And we would, at the same time, be making our fisheries more sustainable. This is surely the direction in which we want to take our market policy.
Along with fisheries, a wide range of sea-related policies will become progressively more integrated through our Integrated Maritime Policy. This will mean that fisheries will no longer operate in isolation. Instead, its activities must and will gel with others, such as coastal development and climate change mitigation. One illustration of this trend can already be seen in the environmental pillar of the Maritime Policy, the Marine Strategy Directive, that sets regional quality objectives which will have a direct bearing on the CFP.
Emerging new initiatives for a more integrated approach to regional seas – such as the recently launched Baltic Sea Strategy and the upcoming Communication on the Integrated Maritime Policy in the Mediterranean – are further proof of the need to dovetail the CFP more and more with other marine and maritime policies.
What I have been saying is also closely linked to the need to have an integrated approach towards the development of coastal communities.
We must face the fact that a reduction in the European fishing fleet's capacity will necessarily mean job losses overall. This calls for the creation and stimulation of alternative economic opportunities in coastal communities. Some may be found in fisheries sectors such as processing and aquaculture, but the overall thrust must be on developing other sectors, including maritime sectors. And what better means could there be of supporting the development of maritime economies than the Integrated Maritime Policy itself?
We need to consider whether some small-scale fisheries which are closely linked to coastal communities that are dependent on fisheries, could be managed by a separate approach from the large-scale sector. In taking such a differentiated approach we should, of course, insist on capacity reductions in the larger-scale fleets. However alongside that, we may be able to pursue other avenues for the small-scale sector which could enhance its employment levels and thus, its presence in remote coastal communities.
Another important part of the CFP reform relates to fisheries beyond EU waters. Through the CFP's external dimension, the EU plays a leading role on the international stage in helping to improve the governance of global fisheries. Consequently, we need to explore how best to both strengthen our own action in the various arenas concerned and how to help improve the performance of bodies such as Regional Fisheries Management Organisations.
Doing this will reinforce the sustainability of fisheries at a global level and the protection of marine ecosystems on the high seas. Furthermore, our policies on Fisheries and on Development should be better integrated within the fisheries partnership agreements that we have with developing countries. We need to explore whether a regional approach will offer better avenues in that context.
These are just some of the matters we should discuss ahead of the CFP reform. Our Green Paper will raise questions on a whole range of other issues, including control and compliance, and possible alternative systems for allocating fishing rights.
We have also recently adopted a Communication on aquaculture which aims to provide a political impetus for the future of EU aquaculture. The long term sustainable development of European aquaculture must also form an integral part of the debate on the CFP reform that has just been launched by our Green Paper.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
By publishing our ambitious consultation document on the future of the Common Fisheries Policy, we have given ourselves the opportunity we needed to chart the course ahead. We have to ask ourselves however:
What kind of Fisheries Policy do we want?
How can we ensure that our policy and our actions do not carry too high a price for our fragile marine resources?
How can we guarantee a healthy supply of fish?
How can we ensure a profitable future for our fisher men and women?
And how can we reconcile the seemingly conflicting interests of the fisheries sector?
As I have said many times already, 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, through your dedicated efforts, your broad reach in the regions and in particular your commitment, 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: however it is 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.
I look forward to a productive discussion today to help our reform debate take another significant step forward.