Council agrees on new mandate to negotiate with the European Parliament

Council early in the morning 15 May agreed on a new negotiation mandate on the Basic Regulation in the fisheries reform.

Update 22.5.2013: The revised mandate is now available on the Council website.

Some information on the agreement is available in the Council press release.

As Simon Coveney, the Irish fisheries minister, met MEPs Wednesday morning to brief them about the new mandate, he presented the deal in terms of “take it or leave it”. However, the head of the European Parliament’s negotiating team, Ulrike Rodust, said that the European Parliament still has to give its approval after the Council adopted a revised mandate for further negotiations.

“Ministers have made certain concessions but I would have liked to see a more courageous decision.” Ulrike Rodust said in a press release.

One step forward, one step back
Several fisheries ministers said Wednesday that the Council has moved towards the Parliament on several issues. But that is only half the truth. Sources who have seen the updated mandate say that it actually weakens environmental protection in several ways compared to the Council’s February position.

For example, the new text allows for fishing quotas to be raised mid-year if “fishing opportunities that have been fixed for a specific stock are in significant disparity with the actual state of that stock”.

The revised Council mandate contains some text that moves in the direction of the European Parliament’s position. For example, there are provisions on protected areas, although not as extensive as the Parliament would wish.

Member states claim to have approached the Parliament by agreeing to have a biomass target – i.e. a goal to rebuild fish stocks to certain sizes. However, the biomass target to rebuild fish stocks to “at least at” levels that can produce the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) existed already in the previous Council position as well as in the Commission’s original proposal.

In reality, according to information available Wednesday morning, Council so far has not yielded to two key demands of the Parliament:
* A target year by which fish stocks should be rebuilt to a certain level.
* Removing the words “where possible”. Council still proposes to end overfishing only “where possible” by 2015 and by 2020 for all stocks, without defining what they mean by “possible”. In fact, it is possible to set fishing quotas that can lead to the rebuilding of fish stocks today.

Council now proposes to allow 5% discards, instead of 7% as they proposed in February. But the devil is, as usual, in the detail. Other changes in the text may actually imply that the amount of fish thrown back to sea would increase rather than decrease.

The previous text said that the provisions for de minimis exemptions “shall not exceed a total of 7 % of the total annual catches of the species concerned.”

The new next says that “provisions for de minimis exemptions of up to 5% of total annual catches of all species subject to an obligation to land as set out in paragraph 1.”

This may mean that you can actually discard a lot more than 5% of one species (or group of species) in a given fishery as long as you discard less in another – thus weakening the incentives to improve the selectivity of those fisheries with the highest discard rates.

What’s next
The European Parliament’s negotiating team will analyse the new Council text before the negotiations continue.

“I hope that we can come to an agreement on the basis of the Council’s revised mandate in the next weeks, but I cannot guarantee that. This reform is too important for the environment and for the fishermen and therefore cannot be rushed”, said Ulrike Rodust, head of the European Parliament negotiating team.

The forthcoming trilogue meetings (negotiations between the Council and the Parliament, with the European Commission) are scheduled for 28 and 29 May.

Council press release
Video: Council press conference 6:30 Wednesday morning
European Parliament press release
Simon Coveney press release
Europêche, Eapo &Copa-Cogeca press release
Oceana press release
Greenpeace press release

Axel Naver

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