At their October 2012 meeting, the Council of Fisheries Ministers reached an agreement on a ‘partial general approach’ on the EC proposal for the future European maritime and fisheries fund (EMFF). This agreement provides the necessary financial support to implement the future common fisheries policy on which the Council reached an agreement for a general approach in June 2012.
In the agreed general approach, some controversial subsidies are supported by the fisheries ministers, such as, up to 2017, modernisation and fleet restructuring measures, i.e. scrapping funds and funds for temporary cessation of fishing activities. The latter have mostly been used in cases where FPAs protocols were not renewed on time. According to the CFP Reform Watch website, 15% of the EMFF, i.e. €975 million, may be used for such measures.
However, new conditions are being introduced for benefiting from scrapping funds: member states will be obliged to make assessments of fleet capacity, and can only use scrapping subsidies if overcapacity is demonstrated. Operators who benefit from scrapping funds will lose their fishing licences; moreover, they will not receive funds if they have broken CFP rules.
Disappointed by this vote, the Fisheries Commissioner, Maria Damanaki argued that ‘the compromise achieved in the Council is less ambitious than the Commission’s original proposal, because the Council reintroduced ineffective subsidies of the past’. Her views are shared by environmental groups such as Greenpeace and WWF.
On the other hand, several member states congratulated themselves on maintaining such subsidies. In particular, the Spanish fisheries minister said in the Spanish press that ‘everything that the [Spanish] fishing sector wanted has been accepted’. He also underlined the strong alliance that was built with France, Portugal and Poland to defend these positions.
But, in the end, the European Parliament and the Council will have to agree on the same text. Commissioner Damanaki is hopeful that the European Parliament outcome on EMFF may turn the tables. She stressed that the Commission’s original proposal – which proposes to eliminate most subsidies for scrapping, temporary cessation of activities, and modernisation – is still on the table: ‘We are now looking forward to the decision of the European Parliament to give it more weight’.
Although the Commission’s proposal may be more ambitious in terms of phasing out subsidies, the merit of the position taken by the Council is that it relieves the pressure exerted on third countries to maintain their access to fleets with over-capacity – which seems to be the case for some fleets fishing in ACP waters. The ineffectiveness of the past ‘scrapping funds’ was linked to the fact that an operator could scrap a vessel, keep the fishing licence, and build a new more powerful vessel (often receiving building aid), which did not lead to the expected reduction of capacity. The introduction of conditions as proposed by the Council may help to close that loophole.