‘Club Med’ stalls EU fishing reform, angers commissioner

BRUSSELS – Six EU member states launched a broadside yesterday against plans to overhaul Europe’s fishing sector, sparking anger from the architect of the reforms, Farm and Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler. The six nations – mostly from southern Europe, where fishing is an economic mainstay – accused the European Commission of trying to take too much control in setting fishing quotas and also rejected plans to remove subsidies to build new vessels. The signatories are France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain, a group that calls itself the «Friends of Fishing.» The document was first presented to reporters by Herve Gaymard, France’s agriculture and fisheries minister. But the manner in which it was published – at the end of a four-hour ministerial debate on fishing policy reform – annoyed Fischler, as none of the group had mentioned their common stance during the talks. Labeling the document’s contents a «Club Med approach,» Fischler directed most of his remarks on the matter against France, which with Mediterranean neighbor Spain is believed to be a prime mover behind the opposition to fishing policy reform. «One thing that has emerged very clearly… is that with the exception of France, all member states showed some willingness to move (on their position). This is an odd way (to behave)… and strange that France should hide behind the coat-tails of five other countries,» he told a news conference. «I don’t think it’s a good thing if a minister thinks he can set up his own private EU,» he said, clearly meaning Gaymard. Denmark, as current EU president, has the unenviable task of brokering a deal between two entrenched camps of opinion on fisheries reform: northern and southern Europe. While it has repeatedly said it wants to wrap up negotiations by the end of the year, the chances of this now appear to be fading fast. Denmark will now formulate a compromise position in October and return this for voting by ministers in November. «I think it is regrettable, in fact remarkable, that this letter wasn’t mentioned at all in Council (ministerial talks). That’s the nicest thing I can say at the moment,» said Danish Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Mariann Fischer Boel. Brussels intends to carry out a radical reform of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy by capping traditionally high fishing quotas, usually set at the end of each year by species and area. It wants to decide on a management system for quotas, with the help of a committee, to help preserve dwindling stocks. Opponents say Brussels would have too much control on quotas in an overly bureaucratic system. «They are trying to mix liberalism with a non-democratic technocracy. This is a hyper-bureaucratic and technocratic way of doing things,» Gaymard said.