[Check Against Delivery]
European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
Looking back at the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy Reform: What we achieved, and what needs to be done
Oceana Board of Directors Meeting
San Sebastian, 9 September 2014
Ladies and gentlemen,
As you know we are approaching the end of my term as European Commissioner; a new Commission is being formed as we speak; the fisheries reform has been in force for several months. So this is probably a good time to see how far we've got and give you some personal reflections on where to go from here.
I think we've come quite a long way. To put it upfront: we have managed to modernize our fishing and set aside short-term economic interests in favor of science and sustainability.
By 2019 we will no longer be throwing away by-catch but using it as food, feed or raw material. Countries have started fine-tuning management rules to the specific conditions of each fishery.
We have some new Advisory Councils and their composition has changed in favour of small fishermen and civil society.
We have gone from 5 stocks being fished sustainably in 2010 to 27 today - and counting.
We also put an end to the gruesome practice of shark finning.
Internationally, we have been pushing for sustainability with all our partners; when we fish outside the EU, we make sure it is with no detriment to fish stocks or local communities. We have helped the recovery of the Eastern Atlantic Bluefin tuna stock. We have overcome dragging disputes with neighbours, with Faroe Islands, Island and Norway about mackerel and other pelagic stocks. Our strict course of action against illegal fishing has led to banning imports from some countries. I think we can fairly say that on the sustainability front the European Union has been leading by example, and has set itself an agenda to maintain that role.
All this doesn’t mean of course that the battle is over. I am underlining the positive results to convey the message that it can be done. But my successor-and you of course-will have a lot to do for the implementation of all this. I have tried to make it irreversible, but we know all of us that devil is always in the details. Let me now share with you some of my experience:
The fisheries reform was all about change - relinquishing old models and going for new and long-lasting solutions, in fisheries as in ocean affairs in general. And change is never easy. There was considerable inertia to overcome, both in the Council of Ministers and in the European Parliament. We had also against us vested interests in fisheries industries and in the markets.
So we turned to the consumers and the informed citizens. We turned to other important players, especially non-governmental organizations, and got their support on sustainability and long-term plans. On discards public indignation was mounting, with celebrity chefs helping our case, and we managed to ride that wave too.
On paper Europe was already committed to sustainability, but in practice Member States kept staving off the deadlines for it. Getting by, procrastinating, protecting the status quo had become the norm. Here is the importance of setting a deadline - ambitious, realistic, binding. I have been pushing towards sustainability since the beginning, and this has allowed us to prove with concrete examples that once it is achieved, fisheries give higher yields. This definitely has helped to bring many reluctant Member States on board.
The landing obligation has been one of the most contentious issues - and is one of the most important structural changes. Public support for my proposal put pressure on the opponents. But reform-oriented groups in the Parliament and in the Member States also played their part. Like for instance the Danish minister who took the Presidency in a crucial phase of negotiations in the Council.
On other points, such as regionalization or the international dimension, we drew our force from experience and criticism against us. It was clear for instance that the Brussels micromanagement model could no longer hold. So here we offered elements of power to the national governments and the parliamentarians in exchange for sustainability.
We improved the relationship between the Council and the Parliament. There had been tension between the two since the introduction of co-decision in 2009; the stalemate on multiannual plans was that tension's most overt expression. Tactically, we had to break through this pattern to make progress. We managed to agree that the stalemate and the reform were entirely separate issues. A dedicated Task Force would take care of the multiannual plans right after the finalization of the reform negotiations. Then during the reform we made sure that elements like fleet management or national quota allocation remain in the hands of the Member States. This gave the administrations confidence that they would keep control over policy implementation. And we pointed out that regionalization gives them even more freedom to cater to specific problems and situations as they deem fit.
At the same time, to satisfy the ambitions of Parliament, we made fleet management and quota allocation entirely transparent - with an obligation for Member States with overcapacity to come up with solutions.
Not only was this trade-off found acceptable, but it also helped to improve relations between the three institutions. So it created a basis for a speedy agreement on the multiannual plans - which both complies with the Treaty and is mutually satisfactory. So on top of everything else, the reform helped us overcome an institutional problem that had blocked us for five years.
In sum, ladies and gentlemen,
I'm quite happy with the results. The Commission's main ambitions were materialized.
But of course the worst thing we can do now is rest on our laurels. The reform is not an end in itself. Sustainability is. And it carries a whole lot of work and a whole set of new challenges.
-Sustainability is now in the law but is yet to be achieved throughout the Union, and should also be the ambition internationally. There is a clear mandate and so we'll have to adjust the quotas accordingly, in the coming years. For this we imperatively need to keep improving our biological knowledge and advice.
-For landing obligation we need to find and apply effective, sensible measures which do not prevent the fleets from functioning normally. The policy allows for flexibility. But this should never undermine the goal itself .We should not let the strict ambitions out of sight.
-We need to go back to our long-term management approach by developing a whole series of multiannual plans. This is good for the resource and for the stability of the industry.
-We can now move away from micro-management and regionalization is already underway. But from a regulatory viewpoint the process also requires a hefty clean-up: for instance over the last three decades the technical measures have layered up into an almost inscrutable maze of rules and detailed requirements. We have to find our way back to a lenient set of rules that are sensible, flexible and serve their purpose. This has to go hand in hand with inclusive stakeholder consultation, paying particular attention to the interests of small-scale fisheries.
-Internationally we have made giant steps, but we need to keep the pace to improve the operation of RFMOs by reforming them and supporting them as a leading player in the process. The eradication of pirate fishing and overcapacity are expected to continue to be high on the list of international priorities. And we need to remodel all our bilateral agreements according to our new standards. Here I have some good ideas still to be implemented and I hope we can continue the cooperation with you and other partners for this.
These and other challenges stem from the reform. It will take time to materialize, for recovering stocks to grow, for a career in fishing to become attractive again or for responsible management to become the norm worldwide.
Most of all, we will still need the input - and the pressure - from civil society. It will be up to them to make sure that we stay the course.
But with a clear idea of the tasks and clear deadlines we are in a position to continue to build on the strong foundations, set during these five years. I am confident that Europe will recover and prosper with more fish, more wealth and more coastal and maritime jobs.