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Joe Borg

Member of the European Commission - Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs

"Upcoming reform of the Common Fisheries Policy"

Hearing on CFP reform at the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament
Brussels, 10 February 2009

Madam Vice-Chairman, Honourable Members,

I want first to thank you Madame Vice-Chairman and the Committee for organising this opportunity to discuss our progress towards the next reform of the Common Fisheries Policy.

Our previous discussions have consistently enriched the reform debate and I am sure that today will be no exception. Our joint work over the past four years to improve the situation for the sector and deliver a healthy marine environment to sustain our fishing industry has begun to pay dividends and is clear evidence to the commitment that you have shown.

Yet despite these achievements, we still need to go further. To begin with, there are many specific areas of fisheries policy which demand our urgent attention. That is why the Council recently adopted the IUU Regulation. And that is why the Commission has tabled a proposal to overhaul the CFP's control policy so as to make management more efficient and enforce CFP rules properly. Later this year, we will submit a proposal to reform the common organisation of the market. All these initiatives are important. All of them can help improve the situation and help us resolve some of the fundamental problems facing the industry.

However, the fuel crisis and economic downturn have shown how difficult it is to establish a stable economic basis for the fishing industry and profitability levels to sustain it over the long term. Structural changes will thus be inevitable to ensure that, once the storm has passed, the industry is in a position to enjoy long-term sustainability. We have to get out of the current situation, where too many boats are chasing too few fish. This situation is driving the overall profitability of the sector down and exposes many fishermen and coastal communities to serious problems whenever the economic environment becomes harsh. We have to stop overfishing our stocks, and discarding fish on which the future of the fishery depends. We have to restore the productivity of our oceans and seas. The long-term economic interests of the fishing sector itself demand it.

The marketing of fisheries products also needs thorough reform. Again, structural improvements will help it cope with the challenges of increasing imports and more demanding consumers.

Moreover, we need initiatives that will help increase returns to the sector by improving the image of its products and thus satisfy these consumers. One such means is ecolabelling. Parliament and Council are now examining a Commission proposal to extend the scope of the Community Ecolabel Award scheme. We favour the introduction of fish products in this broader scheme which consumers can easily understand and which provides added value to products for the industry. Looking at all the options, we believe that this would be the most user-friendly and coherent way ahead. Should this not however be possible, we would not hesitate to propose a specific ecolabelling scheme for the fisheries sector.

All of these initiatives will depend on our shared efforts. The EU cannot do without a Common Fisheries Policy. It is not a solution to "renationalise" the policy because fisheries is about harvesting a moving resource which depends on shared marine ecosystems. What the CFP needs is not reinvention and complication, but simplification and genuine, fundamental reform.

It is time for us to fashion a policy fit for the 21st century. A policy which will help the sector to be profitable and economically independent, and which can deliver healthy and safe seafood to European consumers. A policy which delivers a vibrant and sustainable marine environment with productive fish stocks. A policy through which the industry can feel secure, involved and adequately rewarded. A policy which is effective, simple to implement and which is seen as legitimate both by the sector and by European citizens.

By launching the reform process at an early stage and reaching out to the broadest possible constituency, we have also given ourselves the chance to seek bold solutions with the potential to transform the way we manage our fisheries over the longer term.

The upcoming Green Paper analyses the current situation and sets out a very general vision for the future. It also asks a series of questions. At this stage, all options are open. And I believe we should not shy away from revisiting even the most deeply enshrined elements of our policy, such as relative stability. If we are to resolve the obstacles facing sustainable fisheries in Europe, there must be no such thing as a no-go area in the debate on the future of the CFP.

That being said, I also believe that we can agree on a number of broad aims which should govern our long-term approach to fisheries management.

The first is that the policy should be effective, simple and easy to administer. Decisions need to be taken at a level that is much closer to the people they most immediately affect. This could be achieved by delegating more implementation decision power to Member States, to the Commission or, under certain conditions, to the industry. I am sure that the European Parliament will support us in this aim, and will work constructively with the Commission to achieve a simpler and more efficient CFP.

The second is that we need to involve the industry more closely. And the best way to do that, I believe, is by giving it more responsibility. Despite the progress that has been made in this field since 2002, the current approach to fisheries management remains essentially top-down. The current involvement of stakeholders is not yet sufficient to encourage the industry to feel that it is helping shape policy, even though we all know that its input is vital. Nevertheless, change is gradually coming about I believe that the IUU and control initiatives have already sparked a positive shift in industry attitudes. But we need to do more to secure its support – and to ensure its accountability – if the CFP is to achieve its goals.

There are examples of the sector taking responsibility for implementation of fisheries policy which should encourage us to go further down this road. A number of Producer Organisations have successfully taken on a role in managing quotas. Such self-management by the industry could be extended and formalised – provided that with power comes responsibility, too. Such a move could give the sector greater ownership of the policy and thus stimulate the industry to develop much-needed solutions to a whole range of problems which they are best-placed to solve themselves.

We also need to ensure greater involvement by all stakeholders, not just fishermen, in decision-making. The Regional Advisory Councils are one of the successes of the 2002 reform, and we need to develop them further in order to ensure that our stakeholder consultation is truly a broad-based exercise.

This brings me to the third broad aim: a deeper regional dimension for the CFP. Of course, we need a common policy where all European fisheries are based on the same principles of ecological, economical and social sustainability. Only then can we be sure that fishers throughout the EU, from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, operate on a level playing field. But at the same time, we have to acknowledge that our seas and fisheries are so rich because they are so diverse. Once we move beyond a certain level of general principles, we simply cannot implement one standard solution across the board. The current centralised micro-management has itself only aggravated the complexity of the resulting policy. Intervening at EU level in the fine detail of policy will not be feasible once we move to a codecision process. There are therefore strong institutional reasons, as well as the overwhelming motive of common sense, to find solutions which will enable detailed implementation decisions to be taken in a way whereby we can respond more accurately to the specifics of our regional seas. We have begun moves in this direction already, not only with the establishment of the RACs, but also with the new structure put in place last year for my services at DG MARE. In addition, a wide range of sea-related policies will become progressively more integrated through our Maritime Policy, and this will automatically lead to a higher profile for the regional dimension of all maritime policies, including fisheries policy. One 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 which will have a direct bearing on the CFP.

The fourth and final broad aim concerns the policy's external dimension. There is no doubt that the objectives that guide our action beyond EU waters must be in line with those for the internal CFP. Moreover, they must also be informed by the objectives of the integrated maritime policy which seeks to improve global governance of seas and oceans. Finally, they must be coherent with other EU policies such as Development and with our international commitments. To achieve this, four main areas of discussion have been identified:, namely:

  • Strengthening the role of the EU on the international stage in improving and developing good governance of seas and oceans;
  • finding with our partners ways of giving RFMOs the means to become more effective in combating IUU activities and protecting the marine environment in the areas under their stewardship;
  • improving the use of bilateral agreements to promote EU investment in third countries and to strengthen capacity in developing countries to better manage their maritime natural resources;
  • establishing greater consistency between the regional and bilateral approaches of our external policy by linking together our bilateral interests in a given region under an integrated regional approach.

These are some of the issues we need to discuss in preparation for the CFP reform. The upcoming Green Paper will give us all much food for thought. I trust that the debate which will follow will stimulate stakeholders, citizens, and their representatives to come forward with a host of constructive ideas for the future of fisheries policy in the European Union.

I am in no doubt whatsoever that we can continue to count on the wealth of expertise, ideas and dedication to be found within the Parliament to help us in shaping a fisheries policy for the future. We have before us an unparalleled opportunity to bring about lasting and positive change.

Before I come to the end of my intervention let me say a few words about our proposal to reform the way we control fisheries activities in the future.

The most famous words contained in our proposal must be the words "recreational fishing". In some Member States our proposals in this regard have been misinterpreted alarming citizens that the Commission wants to start controlling millions of hobby anglers and impose quota restrictions on them. This would obviously be a crazy thing to do, and it is therefore not at all our intention to implement such a ludicrous system. Let me make clear once and for all that the hobby angler who catches a few kilos of fish every time he goes out fishing and uses it for his private consumption, will not be covered by the control regulation, even if he catches fish like cod which is under a recovery plan.

There are however facts and figures in abundance that show that certain forms of so called recreational fishing have a dangerously considerable impact on certain vulnerable fish stock. We cannot just keep restricting severely professional fishing on those stocks but give the recreational fishermen a free ride. They have to contribute as well to the conservation effort. It is with this balance in mind that the Commission will approach the issue in the context of negotiations.

We look forward to working with you on this question, on the whole control regulation and of course also on the reform of our policy. In any event, I know that we at the Commission can always rely on the Parliament to stimulate and support us in improving the lot of Europe's citizens.

Mr. Chairman, honourable Members, I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Thank you.

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