The European Commission has presented its proposal for a new subsidies framework for the fisheries and maritime sectors. While the proposal contains significant improvements in relation to the current Fisheries Fund, some measures will continue to pump taxpayers’ money into fleets operating at overcapacity.

The European Commission has presented its proposal for a new subsidies framework for the fisheries and maritime sectors. While the proposal contains significant improvements in relation to the current Fisheries Fund, some measures will continue to pump taxpayers’ money into fleets operating at overcapacity.

The new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) will cover the financial period 2014-2020. The main aim of the proposed regulation is to provide financial aid in support of the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and of the Integrated Maritime Policy (IMP). In this, the Commission has attempted to respond to criticism from the European Court of Auditors and from several stakeholders, who exposed the ineffective and counter-productive use of EU fisheries funds so far.

POSITIVE POINTS

The draft EMFF no longer foresees aid for scrapping vessels, nor for building new vessels or enhancing fishing capacity. It also eliminates the possibility of obtaining aid for engine replacement, a measure that has contributed, in the past, to substantial increases in fishing capacity.

The rules will also become much more stringent, with both Member States and operators being subject to ex ante and ex post conditionality in order to be eligible for funding. Those who do not comply with their obligations and with the rules of the CFP will see their payments suspended, interrupted or withdrawn.

Furthermore, significant improvements have been introduced in what regards transparency, with clear obligations for regular Member State reporting to the Commission and easier means of public disclosure of expenditure.

Management and monitoring of protected areas at sea will also be eligible for funding under the new instrument, and several measures to promote diversification of employment opportunities in coastal areas are foreseen.

Funds could also go towards providing better facilities at harbour/port and on-board for fishermen to bring back marine litter and derelict fishing gear.

ISSUES OF CONCERN

However, some of the proposals, if unchanged, will mean that public funds continue subsidising fleets operating at overcapacity, and that new problem areas might develop with the aid of EU expenditure. While the draft explicitly states that no aid shall be given for measures that enhance overcapacity, there is no obligation for Member States to assess their fishing capacity before approving investments on board – meaning that public aid might still contribute to maintaining existing overcapacity.

In addition, as a negative environmental aspect of funding marine litter removal, aid could also go towards providing income support for fishermen involved in such schemes, as no termination of the fishing license is required. In what is an attempt to diversify income opportunities for fishermen, such a scenario would contribute to maintaining fleet overcapacity and to artificially keep afloat unprofitable fishing businesses.

Aid will also be available for operators wanting to make better use of unwanted catch, in light of a proposed discard ban. Such aid, however, might provide an incentive to continue capturing, processing and marketing overexploited species or undersized fish, under the guise of “unwanted catch”. Similarly, the indiscriminate incentives to the development and promotion of aquaculture described in the proposal entail the danger of subsidising unsustainable practices and of over-investing in the sector, as was done in the past with the catch sector.

The proposed regulation completes a legislative package aimed at overhauling fisheries policy in Europe. Other draft legislation has already been presented in July this year, regarding the basic framework governing European fisheries policy and its common market organisation. It is expected that the package will be approved by co-decision in 2013.

European Commission’s legislative proposals

Joint NGO reaction to the publication of the EMFF

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