The Agriculture and Fisheries Council is the group of ministers responsible for those issues from the EU Member State national governments. They usually meet once per month in Brussels or Luxembourg. Their meetings bring together the Ministers for Agriculture and Fisheries and the European Commissioners responsible for agriculture and rural development, fisheries and maritime affairs, as well as consumer health and protection. Fisheries issues are not necessarily discussed at every meeting.
Fisheries policy issues to be agreed in Council are prepared in Brussels by the Permanent Representatives in COREPER and on a day-to-day basis by Fisheries Working Parties. Most Permanent Representations of the Member States in Brussels have a staff member who deals with fisheries policy, the so-called Fisheries Attachés, and they meet almost once a week to discuss and negotiate technical issues. The Brussels-based staff member is also in regular contact with the Ministry back in the Member State to coordinate, as it is the Ministry that sets fisheries policy. On key policy issues, an official from the Ministry dealing with fisheries will travel to Brussels to attend Fisheries Working Party meetings.
Fisheries negotiations between Member States can give rise to heated debate. Fisheries, although making up a very small share of national revenue, has a strong cultural hold in many areas and politicians are often under a spotlight to fight to protect their country’s fishing rights. Moreover, the wide difference in fisheries throughout the EU and the varied approaches to how fisheries management should be carried out, gives rise to wide divergences of opinion on many issues. During the previous reform of the CFP in 2002 the Member States divided into two key camps informally called the “Friends of Fish” and the “Friends of Fishing”. The former, composed mainly of northern countries, was keen on reform and the need to reduce the fleet and reduce subsidies. The latter, made up of Mediterranean countries, was against the reform and keen to ensure their many fishing dependent communities could continue to operate as before.
Discussions and papers produced for Fisheries Working Party meetings and COREPER are not public, so gathering information on the state of negotiations on policy is not simple. However, many fisheries staff within the Permanent Representations and Ministries are available to discuss ongoing policy issues. The Minister chairing the Fisheries Council will appear before the Fisheries Committee of the EP, usually at the beginning and end of the Presidency to give a state of play and respond to MEPs’ questions.
Agendas for Fisheries Working Party meetings are published (search for documents under “PECHE” subject matter on the Council website), as are the agendas and minutes from Agriculture and Fisheries Council meetings.