LUXEMBOURG – Mediterranean countries fired a broadside at reforms to Europe’s fisheries policy yesterday in the first joint response to plans to slash the EU fleet and save stocks scientists say are close to extinction. EU Farm and Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler launched his plans last month, calling for a nearly 10-percent cut in the number of boats operating from European Union ports, a move that could put almost 30,000 out of work. The proposal, the most radical shake-up of the EU’s 1-billion-euro-a-year fisheries policy for 30 years, has split member states, with Spain, Portugal, France, Italy and Greece forming an alliance under the banner «The Friends of Fishing.» They argue many jobs will be lost in already poor areas and view the shake-up as an attack on national traditions and ways of life. «The proposal is politically unacceptable and technically wrong,» Luis Frazao Gomes, Portuguese secretary of state for fisheries, said ahead of the talks. The plans also sparked fierce debate within the EU executive, and a telephone call between Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and Commission President Romano Prodi led to accusations of political interference from Madrid. Fischler wants to scrap some 460 million euros in aid planned over the next four years to build new vessels or modernize old ones. He wants to use the money for alternative employment possibilities for fishermen. «At this stage, the proposal is unbalanced between the need to protect resources and the equal need to take account of the socioeconomic dimension of fishing,» French Fisheries Minister Herve Gaymard told the meeting. He said an end to subsidies for building and modernizing vessels was «non-negotiable» for France. Spain, which is leading the opposition, is in an awkward position. As current EU president it has a duty to act as a broker and find a compromise. Nevertheless, Spanish Fisheries Minister Miguel Arias Canete signaled his opposition again yesterday. «We have to modify these proposals,» he said, adding they contained what he called «scientific errors.» But Fischler, meeting a light-hearted demonstration of environmentalist members dressed in fish costumes, said he would not change tack and was hopeful a compromise could be reached. A new EU fisheries policy has to be in place in January 2003. «I am not prepared to change the substance of the proposals. Our fish and fishermen need a new policy. Without that, we are risking empty seas.» «There will be opposition, that is clear. But I am… convinced we will be able to persuade the Spanish and others to accept the substance of our proposals,» he said. The Commission has already introduced emergency survival plans for cod in the North Sea, excluding fishermen from certain areas during spawning time. And Fischler notes about 8,000 fishermen are losing their jobs every year in the EU – a sign, he says, that Europe needs a smaller but more economically and socially viable fleet. He cites recent data from the independent monitoring group ICES (the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas), which has shown that the number of fish in EU waters has dropped by 90 percent in the last 25 years. Under his proposals, the EU would also end the yearly catch limits for each country. Instead, there will be multi-annual programs, which scientists say will better protect stock. On Crete, we shall create a tourist village which will include hotels, summer villas, three golf courses (45-hole), marina, conference center, hydrotherapy installations, sports facilities, such as basketball and volleyball pitches, and an Olympic-sized pool. Let me note that the installations will cover less than 3 percent of the entire area which is about 2,600 hectares. The rest of the area will be planted with palm trees, vines and olive trees. Our first concern and basic principle is the protection of the environment. A biological treatment plant for the entire area, the cleaning of beaches and recycling water in the golf courses will be some of our initial actions.