Select Committee on European Scrutiny Second Report



Special Report No. 3/2001 by the Court of Auditors concerning the Commission's management of international fisheries agreements.

Legal base:
Document originated: 27 July 2001
Department: Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of consideration: EM of 14 September 2001
Previous Committee Report: None
To be discussed in Council: October 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared, but relevant to the debate already recommended in European Standing Committee A on the Green Paper on the future of the Common Fisheries Policy


39.1 Because the catching capacity of Community vessels greatly exceeds the fishing opportunities available within its own waters, it has been necessary, following the general introduction of 200 mile national limits, to enter into agreements with third countries. By 1 January 2001, the Commission had entered into such agreements with 33 countries: of these, 14 were still in force, at a cost to the Community budget in 2000 of 125 million euros (£77 million). The purpose of this Special Report by the Court of Auditors is to examine how clearly their objectives have been set, and whether adequate performance monitoring systems have been established to measure their achievement.

The current document

39.2 In its Report, the Court notes that there are various types of agreement. Those in the so-called "first generation" are either reciprocal agreements with countries such as Norway (involving an exchange of fishing opportunities, but no financial contributions); agreements involving financial contributions by both the Community budget and shipowners to third countries in exchange for use of their resources (the sums involved going either to the state budget of the country concerned, in support of development cooperation, or to support its fishing sector through research, training etc.); and agreements involving financial compensation and access to the Community market for the fisheries products of the country in question. Most of the agreements made have fallen into one or other of these categories, the reciprocal ones mainly benefiting the northern Member States (including the UK), whilst the remainder principally benefit the southern Member States, notably Spain. Second generation agreements aim at the setting up by private operators of joint ventures.

39.3 The Court's investigation concentrated on the management during the period 1993 to 1999 of five agreements (with Morocco, Mauritania, Greenland, Senegal and Argentina), though it stresses that, because of reservations about the quality and completeness of the information available on such aspects as the value of the catches and their impact on jobs, this does not constitute a full cost-benefit analysis. Its main findings are as follows:

  • the added value for the Community in terms of the catch is greater for some agreements than other, and in some cases, is even negative;

  • during the period under examination, there was a slight decline in the fishing opportunities offered by the agreements, coupled in some cases with an increase in the rates of financial contribution;

  • in negotiating agreements, the Commission tends to use catches previously declared by vessel owners and estimates by Member States of their fishing needs: since these are often over-estimated, the agreements entered into tend to be both more expensive and under-utilised;

  • in view of this, fleets making use of agreements should be required to lodge guarantees in order to deter purely speculative applications;

  • under-utilisation, as for example in the case of the Greenland agreement, also arises because depletion of the stocks means that the quantities provided for cannot be caught;

  • since the Community budget bears about 85% of the costs of the financial compensation paid to third countries, the Commission should investigate the advisability of sharing these out in a more balanced manner;

  • there needs to be a close link between these agreements and the structural aspects of the Common Fisheries Policy in terms of catching capacity and the granting of aid for new vessels;

  • likewise, there needs to be better coordination between the conclusion of international fisheries agreements and other Community policies such as development aid;

  • the terms of any agreements need to be strengthened to ensure that payments can be adjusted in the event of disputes or of measures being taken by third countries which restrict the opportunities available to Community fishermen; and

  • improvements should be made in the control systems used so as to provide better information on catches and landings, and more uniform inspection practices.

In general, the Court concludes that the Commission needs to define the relevant objectives, criteria and performance indicators, to ensure that actual use is made of the fishing opportunities provided, to ensure that the agreements provide legally binding conditions making payments dependent on performance, and to put in place suitable monitoring arrangements.

39.4 In its reply, the Commission acknowledges that there have been weaknesses, but argues that the situation has improved recently. On particular aspects of the Report, it says that it is systematically seeking to ensure that shipowners bear a larger share of the cost of agreements, that it is clarifying the relationship between the agreements and development policy, that it will seek to improve the provision of data, and that it is addressing any weaknesses in inspection activities.

The Government's view

39.5 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 14 September 2001, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Elliot Morley) says that the Report raises a number of concerns which are shared by the Government. Although the UK generally supports third country fisheries agreements as maintaining traditional opportunities for Community distant-water vessels, and allowing the countries in question to realise the value of resources they do not wish to exploit themselves, it is keen to ensure that the agreements provide value for money, promote environmentally sustainable fishing, and are coherent with Community development and other policies. He says that the UK has become increasingly concerned that these requirements are not being met, and that it believes that this Report, together with the Green Paper on the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy,[94] provide the Community with a vital opportunity to have an extensive debate on the benefit, effect and viability of such agreements. In addition to the points identified by the Court, the UK would like to see any such debate consider the need for agreements to be conditional on an environmental impact assessment, for disciplinary measures for vessels which fish illegally, for new agreements to be considered only where the stocks are known to be sustainable, for greater consideration to be given to replacing community agreement by commercial agreements where practical, and for stock conservation measures to include a move towards agreements containing maximum catch levels rather than limits on vessel numbers.


39.6 Though there will undoubtedly remain a need for third countries fisheries agreements for the foreseeable future, this report by the Court of Auditors provides a timely reminder of the need to ensure that these provide good value for money and are consistent with the Community's structural policies — a point which is of course highlighted by the measures being taken in the wake of the collapse of the agreement with Morocco, on which we have reported separately. Consequently, whilst we are clearing this document, we regard it as relevant to the debate which our predecessors recommended should be held in European Standing Committee A on the Green Paper on the future of the Common Fisheries Policy.

94  (22292) 7262/01; see HC 28-xiii (2000-01), paragraph 1 (2 May 2001). The debate recommendation was confirmed on 18 July: HC 152-i (2001-02), paragraph 1.1. Back

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