EU fishing states demand harder line on access and quotas
Negotiating stance toughens ahead of deadline to agree Barnier’s mandate
A new draft of the EU’s negotiating mandate for the talks on its future relationship with the UK shows that major fishing states are aiming to commit chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier to maintaining their existing access and quotas, reports Gaby Bartai
The original draft mandate stated: “The objective of the provisions on fisheries should be to uphold Union fishing activities. In particular, it should aim to avoid economic dislocation for Union fishermen that have traditionally fished in the United Kingdom waters.
“To reach this objective, the provisions on fisheries should build on existing reciprocal access conditions, quota shares and the traditional activity of the Union fleet.”
The new text, presented to EU ambassadors over the weekend of 8-9 February, says that Mr Barnier must ‘uphold’ existing arrangements, following complaints from France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Ireland that the previous pledge to ‘build upon’ existing access, quota shares and ‘traditional activity’ was too weak.
The latest draft also reiterates that future arrangements must be based on ‘common technical and conservation measures’ – a reference to the ‘level playing field’ that UK fishermen fear could keep them trapped within the CFP in all but name.
EU sources say that the demands on fishing could toughen still further before the final version of the negotiating mandate is agreed on 25 February.
The aim of the tougher wording is to tie Mr Barnier’s hands in the negotiations, and allay the fears of EU fishing states that he will reach a compromise with the UK that will see their boats able to catch significantly less in UK waters. Sources from EU fishing states have expressed concern at Mr Barnier’s careful use of language, talking only of a deal that produces ‘stable’ quota shares.
However, Michel Barnier has repeatedly stated that the UK must agree to let EU vessels continue fishing in UK waters if it wants to secure a free trade agreement with the bloc. Speaking on 3 February when the draft negotiating mandate was launched, he said: “Our free trade agreement must include an agreement on fisheries. This agreement should provide for continued, reciprocal access to markets and to waters with stable quota shares.”
Meanwhile, the European Fisheries Alliance (EUFA), a coalition of fishing organisations set up in response to Brexit to represent the interests of EU fishing fleets, has published a paper setting out its vision of the future, entitled ‘Building a sustainable, strong and mutually beneficial joint fisheries management post-Brexit’, which can be read at: bit.ly/39v2sXr
EUFA’s position is that the future relationship should be based on four core principles: negotiating a new fisheries framework in the context of the wider UK-EU economic and trade relationship, ‘cementing’ the current allocation of fishing opportunities, which it says ‘has benefited EU and UK fleets’, maintaining mutual access to waters, and ensuring the ‘continuation of sound, long-term fisheries management for our shared stocks’.
Speaking to Fiskerforum, EUFA chairman Gerard van Balsfoort said: “Brexit is undoubtedly an uncertain moment for European fishermen, their businesses and their communities.
“It is now time to look ahead, acknowledge our mutual interdependence and end this uncertainty. We need to build a new, long-term common framework for sustainable fisheries management – one that preserves the existing distribution of fishing opportunities and upholds mutual access to waters and markets.”
He said that the upcoming negotiations will provide an opportunity to build a new, long-term joint framework for sustainable fisheries management that benefits both EU and UK fishing fleets and the communities they support, stressing the ‘many centuries’ of shared use of the seas by European fishermen.
He added: “The timeframe to negotiate the future relationship between the EU and the UK is ambitious. However, we are confident that if we build constructively on the existing rules and consider fisheries in its wider context of the upcoming economic partnership, we can achieve a new agreement that does justice to the complex reality on the ground.”
The Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) welcomed the EU’s draft negotiating mandate for the forthcoming trade talks, saying that it offers ‘tangible hope’ to the Irish industry.
However, KFO CEO Seán O’Donoghue sounded a note of caution, saying that while Michel Barnier had endorsed the position of EUFA, of which the KFO is a member, there was a long way to go before an agreement was reached. The KFO added: “The UK government hasn’t shown itself to be a model of consistency in what are unprecedented discussions.”
Mr O’Donoghue said: “Mr Barnier stated clearly today, and I quote, ‘Agreement on fisheries will be intrinsically linked to the trade agreement.’ That is what we have implored from the get-go. As long as our negotiators stick tight to this position, there remains light at the end of the tunnel.
“Any other outcome is too ghastly to countenance, and the EU27 must now remain united and strong to retain that crucial linkage between fisheries and trade.”
Fishing for Leave: UK government must stand firm
Fishing for Leave (FFL) has reacted angrily to EU demands that the UK should ‘roll over’ current access and quota shares, and to what it regards as the inadequate UK government response.
It said: “We are furious at the lack of criticism, by both government and some media, of the false narrative the EU is trying to build that it is a fait accompli that fishing must be sacrificed for a deal. EU threats are hollow brinkmanship.”
The UK’s unassailable legal position as an independent coastal state with full jurisdiction over its waters, and the EU’s dependence on both access to UK waters and UK seafood exports, mean that the UK is in a very strong position going into the trade talks, said FFL.
It added: “We are angry, dismayed and worried at why Downing Street seems emollient to the EU’s hollow threats rather than swatting them down categorically – this is making the industry very jittery.
“It’s all very well redeploying Mrs May’s worn-out words: ‘we will take back control and be an independent coastal state’ – that happens just by virtue of terminating our membership – but if we sign up to roll over current access and quotas, along with surrendering to the political declaration terms of regulatory alignment through a level playing field, then it is independence in name only.
“Likewise, Boris Johnson can say he won’t trade fishing away – great – but that could mean he just won’t go below the status quo. Fishing is totemic to millions. They don’t expect taking back control to mean business as usual – they expect it to mean full control of our waters, unhindered by the CFP, and repatriating our rightful share of resources worth £6-8bn to coastal communities.
“The government must resist the EU’s demand that a fisheries agreement as per the political declaration means Britain caving to rolling over current exploitationary access and quota shares.”
FFL concluded: “Mr Johnson has won himself the position to win back our freedom – he can be either a hero or a Heath.
“We’ve won the battle to write our own future. Now we must finish the war to obtain complete regaining of our independence.”