Today, Monday 9 May, a debate was held in the European Parliament on the issue of European fisheries sector crisis due to rise in oil prices.
The rise in the oil price over the last few years has dramatically affected all European fishermen, said Alain Cadec (EPP), whose question to the Commission initiated the whole debate. “Fishermen tell me how concerned they are and I am asking the member states to help the fishing industry carry on working,” he said.
Alain Cadec said that the European fishing is important and must be protected, and he called on the Commission to raise the the de minimis aid ceiling from €30 000 to 60 000, which means that member states would be able to give more aid to business in the fisheries sector. “I want to give member states more flexibility,” he said.
Many speakers, especially from the EPP and S&D groups, concurred with Alain Cadec and expressed their concern about the situation for small scale fishermen.
Catherine Trautmann, (S&D) said that the fuel price has been a real problem on a day to day basis, especially for small scale fishermen. “This is a very serious situation and we have to give fishermen all our support,” she said, adding that the increased de minimis ceiling should only be a transitional measure.
Commissioner Maria Damanaki said that in order to address the increasing fuel prices, she encouraged member states to use the European Fisheries Fund. Until now, she said, member states have used less than 20 percent of the European Fisheries Fund.
Maria Damanaki further referred to a study conducted by the Commission in 2008 which showed that raising the de minimis ceiling would distort fishing operation towards more fuel intensive technology and that bigger vessels would receive more subsidies than smaller ones. Also, she said, raising the ceiling would distort competition between EU member states as some states facing austerity measures cannot afford to pay more subsidies to fishermen.
“I’m not happy with the Commission sitting back neglecting to do something,” said João Ferreira (GUE/NGL) in reply to the commissioner. The whole European fishing industry could be destroyed as fuel prices continues to rise, he said.
Green MEPs spoke out against raising the de minimis ceiling. The fisheries sector must restructure away from destructive fuel intensive fishing gear, said Raül Romeva i Rueda (Greens/EFA), and granting more public money to fuel would send the wrong signal.
Chris Davies (Alde), one of the founders of the Fish for the Future campaign group, called the whole debate “nonsense” and “American pork barrel politics”. Today it is the call for subsidies for fishermen, tomorrow it will be farmers, then lorry drivers and airline operators and owners of petrol stations, he said. “All of us are suffering because fuel prices have gone up. Let’s subsidise each other.”
European environmental NGOs claim in a joint statement that no information about recipients of de minimis aid and the financed measures has been disclosed by the Commission. It is thus, according to the NGOs, not known to what extent the de minimis aid is used today.
A motion for resolution will be voted in the parliament on Thursday.