Prelude to the 2012 reform


There is a legal obligation to review the stock conservation and fleet capacity aspects of the CFP by 2012, ten years after the previous review in 2002. Since the establishment of the CFP in 1983, such reviews have taken place every ten years to respond to changing circumstances, such as declining stocks, changes in EU fishing fleet size or new EU Member States.

However, the European Commission stated that due to the many problems with the EU fisheries and the failure of the CFP to ensure sustainable fisheries, it will go further and intends to use the scheduled review to carry out a major reform of the CFP, extending to many aspects of current policy.


  • April – December 2009 – stakeholder consultation on the 2012 CFP reform
  • Early 2010 – Publication of summary and analysis by Commission of the results  of consultation
  • 2010 – Commission meetings with stakeholders in Member States
  • 13 July 2011 – Publication by Commission of reform package
  • 2011, 2012 and 2013 – passage of draft proposals through legislative process (co-decision procedure European Parliament and Council)
  • The reviewed CFP was originally planned to enter into force on 1 January 2013, but the reform will continue into 2013. See the more detailed timetable for the European Parliament

On 13 July 2011, the European Commission adopted and presented the first part of the proposal for the CFP reform. The final part of the proposal was presented 2 December 2011. All in all, the CFP Reform Package consists of six parts.

To catch up with what has happened since 13 July 2011, please check our summary of the main reform events since then. Below is a description of the major developments leading up to the presentation of the reform package.


The last major reform of the CFP was in 2002, when significant amendments were made to the Framework Regulation of the CFP and the structural fund rules.

As well as establishing environmental objectives for the CFP, the new regulation established, inter alia, the commitment to develop recovery and multiannual management plans for stocks, a commitment to apply the precautionary approach and implement an ecosystem based approach to fisheries management. New rules were developed for limiting fishing capacity and it was agreed to phase out public funding for vessel construction and capacity increasing modernisation. Also, stakeholder participation and policy transparency was increased with the creation of seven Regional Advisory Councils.

However, despite the introduction of these new measures intended to “ensure exploitation of  living aquatic resources that provides sustainable economic, environmental and social conditions”, as stated in the CFP Regulation, fish stocks continued to deteriorate, profits continued to fall, fishing communities continued to decline and the marine environment received little attention. All of which has lead to the need to once again talk about radical reform.

Although on paper the improvements agreed in 2002 appeared positive, in practice the implementation of the new rules was lacking. Ecosystem based approach and precautionary approach remain phrases in a text yet to be put into practice. Recovery plans and multiannual plans for fisheries management have been established, but only for a few stocks. Subsidies for vessel building and modernisation were indeed phased out in law, but new subsidies rules were developed to enable some of the funding continued.

Despite radical changes to the rules, a failure to tackle the structural failings of the CFP, such as fleet overcapacity, lack of political will to follow through with implementation and no clear CFP objectives, the problems persist.


In September 2008 the Commission published a mid-term review of the Common Fisheries Policy. This nine page Commission working document presents a harsh description of the many failures of the CFP, including:

  • The European fishing fleets can in many cases exert a fishing pressure on the stocks which is two to three times the sustainable level. Subsidies have contributed to this.
  • 30 percent of the stocks for which information exists, are outside of safe biological levels. This means that the harvest from 30 percent of our stocks has been so intense that the future productivity of the stock is threatened because the capacity for reproduction is reduced.
  • The decisions in the Council over many years were therefore dominated by concerns about the short-term economic and social impact of reducing fishing pressure and fishing capacity. This has led to a preference for short-term solutions over long-term improvements.

Such a damning public review of EU policy by the European Commission is by no means a common occurrence.

But such a publication was not a total surprise. Already in December 2007 the Court of Auditors, the EU institution that checks the EU budget has been correctly spent, published a highly critical report on the control and compliance aspects of the CFP. It summarises that if the current policy failings continue “it will bring grave consequences not only for the natural resource, but also for the future of the fishing industry and the areas associated with it”.

Earlier in 2007 an independent study commissioned by the European Commission, Reflections on the Common Fisheries Policy, by Michael Sissenwine and David Symes was highly critical of the CFP, highlighting “the failure to prevent the depletion of major fish stocks, increasing instability within the industry and continued damage to the marine environment” and calls for radical action to reverse the current dire situation.


On 22 April 2009 the Commission published the Green Paper on the Reform of the CFP, signalling the start of the on-line consultation process where stakeholders and interested parties were invited submit their views prior to the Commission preparing draft legislation.

A European Commission Green Paper is a discussion document setting out ideas and is aimed at stimulating debate and inviting the audience to contribute views. The CFP Green Paper sets out various reasons for the policy failure, lists potential priority areas for reform and then poses a number of questions for stakeholders on what measures should be taken. Stakeholders had until 31 December 2009 to respond to the consultation and all the responses are published on-line.

In the Green Paper the Commission identifies 5 key structural failings of the CFP that need to be overcome:

  • Deep-rooted problem of fleet overcapacity;
  • Imprecise policy objectives resulting in insufficient guidance for decisions and implementation;
  • A decision-making system that encourages a short-term focus;
  • A framework that does not give sufficient responsibility to the industry;
  • Lack of political will to ensure compliance and poor compliance by the industry.

In April 2010 the Commission published an analysis of the submissions received during this online consultation.

Many of the stakeholder submissions and Member State initial positions agree with the Commission’s analysis of the crisis and the need for reform to achieve sustainable fisheries in the EU. But there are widely divergent views on what measures to take to achieve those objectives on many issues. There remains much debate, negotiation and many institutional hoops to jump through before any of these statements and views become law at the end of 2012, and then operational policy in the following years.

The Commission does not state a policy position in a Green Paper or present an action plan; the consultation should be closed to do this. However the Commission’s CFP reform website does outline its opinion on priorities for reform to respond to the structural failings of the CFP:

  • Ending fleet overcapacity
  • Refocusing the CFP’s main objective on maintaining healthy and sustainable fish stocks
  • Adapting fisheries governance away from centralised control by the Council of Fisheries Ministers, towards regionalised implementation of the principles laid down at Community level.
  • Involving the sector further in resource management and implementation of the CFP.
  • Developing a culture of compliance with rules



Already in 2010 a number of Member States set out key priorities and red line issues for the long reform negotiations ahead. Although Member States can agree on the need for reform and in particular the need to tackle overcapacity and overfishing, the shape and extent of this reform is expected to give rise to intense negotiations as States already have widely divergent views.

For example, the rules for allocating EU fishing rights are already fiercely debated. Some countries, including Spain, would like to see an introduction of a system based on transferable fishing rights – in effect ownership rights to fish stocks. Other countries, including France categorically reject such a move for a public resource and insist on the preservation of the allocation of fishing rights based on historical rights to fish (relative stability).

Similar wide differences of approach also appear on the issue of subsidies to the sector. Member States views vary from an abolition of practically all subsidies, to maintaining subsidies as they are.

A number of EU Member States held a national consultation to gather views from stakeholders before developing their initial positions and have published their views and outlined initial positions in EU ministerial meetings. These can often be found on the relevant ministry web sites in each Member State.


The European Parliament decided to draft a so-called own initiative report on the CFP Green Paper in order to contribute to the consultation process and to set out an initial position. The report was voted in EP plenary session in February 2010. It sets out the institution’s position on the failings of the CFP and measures that need to be taken.

The European Parliament will be at the forefront of the CFP reform process and its position will no doubt develop and change over the years of the reform. Under new legislative powers for the European Parliament acquired with the Lisbon Treaty, the EP will for the first time have the right of co-decision on legislative proposals drafted by the European Commission for the CFP reform.

Early in 2011, Members of the European Parliament from all the major political groups formed a cross-party group called Fish For the Future to press for CFP reform. See CFP Reform Watch article for more information.


Over 350 organisations, individuals, scientific bodies, regional governments, local authorities and non-EU governments submitted views to the consultation. They ranged from the fisheries sector groups and environmental NGOs, from development organisations to ports authorities.

All the submissions can be read on the CFP consultation website. The Commission has published a report on the submissions received.

Since making their submissions to the CFP reform consultation, stakeholders have been developing more detailed positions on the reform. Coalitions have also been founded to develop or support positions. Some of these coalitions cross the ideological boundaries between stakeholder groups. See the following links for further information:

Be Sociable, Share!