The vexed issue of subsidies for building new fishing vessels 

The European Parliament Fisheries Committee today voted to give a mandate to its negotiating team to start negotiations with the Council on the next European Maritime and Fisheries Fund.

There is one particularly controversial point: the Parliament has proposed to allow subsidies for building new fishing vessels which, if implemented would set a dangerous precedent in using public money in a way that many fear would increase fishing capacity and pressure on declining fish stocks. It would also undermine the ability of EU countries to argue in international negotiations that such subsidies should be limited or banned worldwide.

The European Parliament position does specify that this proposal is limited to a very small category: small boats in the so called “Outermost Regions” of the EU (essentially the Azores, Canaries and a few small Caribbean islands). It is also conditional on not increasing fishing capacity (it would rather enable fishers to have safer and more energy efficient boats). But more modern boats are in practice almost certain to increase capacity, even as a side effect, having detrimental effect on fishing stocks unless we can be certain that catch limits and quotas are fully respected.

More alarmingly, the EU Council of ministers – representing the national governments of EU member states – wants a wider-ranging system of subsidies.

I am not happy with either position, but the European Parliament one is at least more limited in scope. In the negotiations ahead, the Parliament must ensure that its narrower definition of the scope for such subsidies is the maximum allowed – or, even better, rally to the European Commission’s position that no subsidies should be given.

I did not vote today in favour of the negotiating mandate, in case that was interpreted as a vote to support such subsidies. But I do want the negotiations to start on this and on the many other issues at stake (most of which are not so controversial). I therefore abstained. But I and others have strongly made the point that the Parliament’s negotiating team must at the very least hold firm against the Council on this point.

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