Some fisheries ministers show signs of willingness to compromise in the fisheries reform. Key dates will be Coreper 2 May and Council 13–14 May.
At the Council meeting 22 April, the Irish Presidency invoked a sense of urgency in concluding the fisheries reform and asked member states to consider compromises in order to reach a political agreement with the European Parliament in May.
Ministers agree to ambitious timetable
“We are proposing to focus strongly on finding political compromise over the coming weeks. If we are to agree a reformed CFP, we must compromise to an extent on our current position, and the Parliament and the Commission must also compromise,” Simon Coveney, Ireland’s fisheries minister, said at the meeting.
Ministers supported the presidency’s proposed timeline, which means a new Council mandate will be considered at the Coreper meeting of 2 May. If required, the Council on 13–14 of May will give guidance on any outstanding issues.
Simon Coveney asked ministers to indicate what compromises they might be willing to make on the key issues of maximum sustainable yield (MSY), discard ban, regionalisation, capacity management and multi-annual plans.
Many ministers indicated a general willingness to compromise, without being specific.
MSY and discard ban
Some – notably Denmark, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Poland – indicated they were ready to look at a new text regarding MSY. On the other hand, several governments said they would like to stick to the Council’s position of fishing mortality Fmsy 2015 only “where possible”. These were France, Spain, Greece, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Portugal, Slovenia, Croatia and Belgium.
With regards to the discard ban, Denmark, the UK, the Netherlands and Estonia signalled willingness to yield on some of the exemptions to the discard ban – for example de minimis percentages or timetable.
Greece, Poland, Slovenia, Italy, Belgium and France indicated they would not want to divert from the Council’s position on the discard ban. Greece emphasised that the Council’s general approach, agreed 27 February, was a compromise that was already difficult to reach.
“Ministers remain firmly rooted in their position”
In general terms, the French minister said that he supported the ambitious timetable to reach an agreement in the next few weeks, but that Council must not lose sight of substance. In the same vein, the Polish minister said that any flexibility from the Council’s side should not come at the cost of a reasonable compromise.
Many member states emphasised the need for “realistic” and “practicable” compromises that governments can implement with the support of the fishing industry.
Commenting on the Council meeting, Tony Long, Director of the WWF European Policy Office, said that the conclusions were a contradiction in terms.
“On the one hand Member States agreed to step up the pace of the negotiations to reach a good deal by the next Council in May, but on the other hand they remain firmly rooted in their position despite the trilogues. They have not moved closer to the position of the European Parliament regarding the cornerstone issues of this reform package that would guarantee sustainability for fisheries in Europe.”
Neutral language on multiannual plans
Some member states – Malta, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Romania – said that stocks shared with third countries in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean will have to be managed together with those third countries – and suggested that EU member states cannot be the only ones to apply fishing according to MSY if that puts them at a disadvantage.
Most member states said they could not support the Parliament’s proposal for regionalisation (article 17) because it goes to far in the direction of nationalisation.
The Parliament and Council are currently stuck in a conflict over how to adopt multiannual fishery management plans. A number of management plans are stuck in Council because they do not agree that the Parliament should have a say over the harvest control rules.
In order for this conflict not to block the whole reform, many member states said they would support that the basic regulation lays down a procedure for adopting multiannual plans that is legally neutral with regards to the roles of the Parliament and the Council.
The reason that the Irish presidency wants to reach a fast conclusion of the CFP reform is that it will be difficult for the Lithuanian presidency to take it on in addition to all their other work. The Lithuanian presidency will be in charge of both the trilogues on the new fisheries fund (the EMFF) and the setting of fishing quotas for 2014.