Member states unwilling to take more regional responsibility, Commission says

Member states are reluctant to start the process of regionalisation, Ernesto Peñas of the European Commission said at a meeting in the European Parliament on Wednesday.

The Commission has proposed that Brussels should set the targets for the fisheries policy, but leave more of the details on how to reach those targets for the member states to decide. Many have complained, however, that the Commission has failed to provide details on how this regionalisation should take place – how, exactly should member states and regional bodies organise the decision making and control?

At a seminar in the European Parliament on Wednesday, Ernesto Peñas, Director of Policy development at the Commission’s DG MARE, shed light on some of the aspects of regionalisation.

“Has never been done before”
The lack of detail is in fact on purpose, Ernesto Peñas said: “We cannot tell the member states how this works. No-one has perfected a formula for this, because it has not been done before.”

It will be up to the member states around each sea basin to come up with a way of working together. Peñas said regionalisation will be a learning process that will develop over time, and that the details is something that only practice will tell.

The intention is that the European Parliament and Council will limit their decisions to setting the target to reach and the speed to reach it. Member states will then regionally get to choose how to reach those targets, for example by deciding on fishing methods, seasons, gear type or closed areas. The Commission would allow two member states to prescribe different kinds of selective gears, as long as both could reach the same level of selectivity.

“This is a process that has never been done before. It will depend on the goodwill of member states to trust each other. This trust cannot be imposed,” Peñas said.

Member states reluctant
Last week, the Commission presented the regionalisation to the member states in Council.

“There were only two member states that were wholeheartedly supporting the regionalisation. Many member states hide behind various difficulties to avoid embarking on this process,” Peñas said.

Some of the objections that member states have raised:
* It will be more burdensome for the national administrations.
* Small member states feel that they could be squeezed out.
* Some fear that this will open the door to renationalisation.

Peñas said his personal analysis was that many member states were reluctant to take on more responsibilities as they “are happy to be able to blame Brussels for everything,” although, of course, no member state as admitted anything along those lines.

Many member states want to know under what circumstances the Commission will deem regional management to have failed and intervene. Again, this is something the Commission cannot be detailed about, since this has not been done before, Peñas said.

Regionalisation – lessons from the USA
What, then, is the rationale behind a regionalised fisheries management?

Apart from ensuring that the rules are adapted to the specificities of each region, there are other benefits as well. Dr Henrik Österblom, researcher at Stockholm Resilience Centre, presented findings from a study of fisheries decision making in the U.S.

There, fishermen, scientists, policy makers and NGOs meet in regional co-management. This has led to a more transparent decision making process in which decisions receive more legitimacy among stakeholders.

> Download Dr Österblom’s presentation
> Read more about the study

Commission Q&A on regionalisation
The Commission recently published a Q&A document on regionalisation which outlines its views in more detail.

> Download the Q&A on regionalisation

Axel Naver

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