MEPs have voted for ministers to be stripped of the right to set fishing quotas, in the European Parliament’s first big exercise of its new powers over fisheries policy under the Lisbon treaty.
The Parliament’s fisheries committee yesterday (27 January) approved a report by Portuguese centre-right MEP Maria do Céu Patrão Neves, which calls for decision-making to be decentralised, and for fishermen and -women to be given more of a say over the management of stocks. Although this is a non-legislative report, it is significant in that it reveals the Parliament’s thinking on reform of the common fisheries policy, which will be a priority for the next European Commission.
Speaking on the eve of the vote, Patrão Neves said: “The problem is that the Council [of Ministers] does not follow scientists’ advice.” She has proposed a more important role for regional bodies, with the aim of “shorten[ing] the distance between those who work in the sea and those who take the decisions”.
A single EU-wide management system should be scrapped, the report says, although quotas and total allowable catches (TACs) could be kept for some waters and species. TACs and quotas “are fine for some kind of fisheries and some regions”, Patrão Neves said, but did not suit every stock and every sea.
Green MEPs were unhappy that her report did not make preserving fish stocks the top policy priority, ahead of economic and social concerns. Instead, Patrão Neves argues that conservation, fishing livelihoods and profitability will all be equal priorities. She rejected the charge that this would lead to economic interests trumping the environment again.
“That’s not the case. If we are not able to establish a balance between these three domains we will not have sustainable development of the sector…If we establish a hierarchy we run the risk of neglecting one of these three major pillars. If you want to build a house you need three pillars of the same size,” she said.
This approach could lead to conflict with the Commission, which has warned that preserving stocks and preserving fishing jobs may be competing objectives in the short term.
Now that the Parliament is preparing to use the co-decision powers that it has gained on fisheries policy, Patrão Neves offered reassurance that fishing interests will not be taken into account to the exclusion of other factors – as some conservationists privately fear.
“Power is only real when it comes with responsibility. If the Parliament has more power, it [also] has more responsibility”, she said.
Co-decision meant that “we have a more democratic process, we have a more enriched debate and we should have a better result in the end”, Patrão Neves said.
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