Several Members of the European Parliament are rallying for support to double the allowance of national aid for fishermen to €60,000 per enterprise - Seas At Risk and other environmental organisations strongly oppose such an increase.

Several Members of the European Parliament are rallying for support to double the allowance of national aid for fishermen to €60,000 per enterprise - Seas At Risk and other environmental organisations strongly oppose such an increase.

State aid to operational costs could initially augment profits, but it would also allow for more intensive use of the vessels and increasing the pressure on European fish stocks. More than 70% of these fish stocks are assessed as over-fished, due partly to the large overcapacity in the fleet which still persist despite attempts to reduce it. Keeping uneconomical vessels in business through subsidies is therefore completely unsustainable and would send a perverse signal at a time where a new Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is being discussed.

DE MINIMIS DEMISE

The parliamentarians are suggesting to increase the ceiling for the so-called ‘de minimis’ regulation, which was already increased in 2007 from € 3,000 to the current €30 000 per three-year period and per fishing company.

‘De minimis’ is based on the assumption that the sum is ‘so minor as to merit disregard‘ and does not significantly affect competition between Member States. However, the proposed further increase can make up as much as 48% of a vessel's annual operating cost, and an evaluation conducted in 2009 concluded that the regulation does distort competition between fleets of different Member States. Political pressure for state aid is high particularly in some Member States where subsidies are culturally taken for granted and expected be maintained year on year.

The provision of state aid for fisheries comes on top of other substantial amounts of subsidies for fisheries, such as the European Fisheries Fund. Given that the available aid under that Fund is far from fully utilised, it is unclear why there is a need for an increase in state aid.

Seas At Risk and other NGOs believe that taxpayers’ money should not be spent in a way that undermines the objectives of the CFP, further increases the pressure on already over-fished stocks, delays the necessary restructuring of the EU fisheries sector, distorts competition among Member States and undermines fundamental EU positions in international reform processes.

The proposal will be under discussion at the next parliamentary plenary meeting in Strasbourg on the 9-12 May.

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