Select Committee on European Scrutiny Second Report


COM(01) 384

Draft Council Regulation aiming to promote the conversion of vessels and of fishermen that were, up to 1999, dependent on the fishing agreement with Morocco.

Legal base: Articles 36 and 37 EC; consultation; qualified majority voting
Document originated: 18 July 2001
Forwarded to the Council: 23 July 2001
Deposited in Parliament: 27 September 2001
Department: Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of consideration: EM of 20 September 2001
Previous Committee Report: None
To be discussed in Council: October 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared


40.1 Over the years, the Community has entered into fisheries agreements with a large number of third countries in order to provide distant-water catching opportunities for its fishermen. Until the end of 1999, the agreement with Morocco provided such opportunities for more than 400 vessels and 4300 fishermen, principally from Spain, but, on its expiry, it was held in abeyance whilst attempts were made to negotiate a replacement. Those affected are eligible until 31 December 2001 for the compensation provided under Council Regulation (EC) No. 2792/1999,[95] with assistance from the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG), in the event of a temporary cessation of fishing activities. In addition — and in anticipation that the suspension of the agreement would be permanent — the Nice European Council in December 2000 asked the Commission to propose, within the Community's overall financial perspective, a specific action programme for restructuring the parts of the fleet which had fished within the framework of the old agreement.

The current proposal

40.2 Now that negotiations with Morocco have finally broken down, the Commission has set out in the current document the measures it sees as necessary to meet the objectives set by the European Council for those vessels which cannot be accommodated within Community waters or under other third country agreements. It notes that aid is available from a range of Community instruments, such as the Structural and European Regional Development Funds, in order to facilitate the economic diversification of the regions most directly concerned (Andalucia, Galicia, and the Canary Islands). It has, therefore, concentrated on the help to be made available to the fishing sector itself, notably through the FIFG.

40.3 The main action envisaged would be in three parts, and would in all cost some 281 million euros. Some of this would represent expenditure already earmarked under the structural measures within the FIFG, where a number of more detailed changes would be made to the current conditions of assistance, including higher rates of aid and the waiving of certain obligations. The bulk of the assistance (around 197 million euros) would be provided by means of new money, found from elsewhere within the overall Community budget. This would be split between three separate areas of activity, on the basis that at least 40% would be used for scrapping vessels and changes to non-fishing activity, and at least 32% for retraining or granting early retirement to the fishermen affected, but no more than 28% for the transfer of vessels to third countries, joint ventures, and modernisation. The Commission is also at pains to point out that this latter cost represents only about one-third of the amount which the Community might have paid to Morocco under a new five year agreement.

The Government's view

40.4 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 20 September 2001, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Commons) at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Elliot Morley) says that, in the negotiations leading up to this proposal, the UK has aimed to ensure that the proposals lead to a real restructuring of the Iberian fleet, to ensure that any proposal under the FIFG is restricted to fleet restructuring, and does not extend to broader socio-economic measures, and to ensure that there is a thorough discussion of the proposal, avoiding any specific funding commitment.

40.5 The Minister says that overall the proposed allocation of the aid package appears balanced, and that the conditions attached to it should ensure that the aid is properly targeted, and so limit the number of vessels previously fishing under the Morocco agreement which are diverted into internal Community fishing areas and thus compete with UK vessels. Despite this, he also expresses concern that, if the remaining vessels subsequently fish for unallocated species subject to TACs, such as deep water species, this will only add to the current over-fishing, thereby increasing the need to take measures to ensure the sustainability of the stocks in question. In addition, he suggests that there will be increasing pressure from Spain for new and enlarged third country fishing agreements, which could overshadow the need to take into account available stock levels, value for money, and the effect on indigenous fishermen. He says that, in view of this, the UK will question the Commission on the justification for putting so much money into encouraging the ex-Mediterranean fleet to modernise for use in third country waters.

40.6 The Minister also points out that the UK industry is likely to argue that similar money should be allocated to them when their opportunities have been lost, given the UK's "robust stance" in not providing money for tie-up schemes, and that they will also be concerned about the increased pressure on non-quota species from displaced vessels. However, he points out that the emphasis of this proposal is on scrapping vessels as a direct consequence of a failure to renegotiate a long-standing third country agreement, rather than a tie-up scheme due to lack of fish.


40.7 Although the level of Community expenditure to which this proposal would give rise is substantial, it will be met from within the existing financial perspective, and moreover has to be set against that which would have arisen had the agreement with Morocco been renewed. Furthermore, as the Minister has pointed out, the aim of reducing the number of vessels which might otherwise be diverted to Community waters would be of direct benefit to the UK, as would any reduction in the pressure from Spain and other Member States to conclude other, potentially expensive, third country fisheries agreements (a point reinforced by the report of the Court of Auditors, on which we have also reported). Consequently, although we believe this proposal should be drawn to the attention of the House, we are clearing it.

95   OJ No. L 337, 31.12.99, p.10. Back

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