Thursday, 24 July 2014

"Independent" Scotland and the EU

Readers of this blog will know that we do not consider membership of the European Union, whose legislative and regulatory rules, laid down often in opposition to the democratic wishes as expressed through elections (and we do not mean the farcical ones to the European Parliament, when 33.7 per cent of the electorate bother to vote), over-rule domestic legislation, to be synonymous with independence.

At present it looks like the SNP does consider those two political terms to be synonymous and talk airily of being independent of the UK this autumn and members of the EU on rather astonishingly favourable terms (do they really think Scotland will get some kind of a rebate?) by early 2016. At best this is moonshine or Scotch mist, at worst dangerous misleading of the electorate. Let's be reasonable: under no circumstances will the possible negotiation of Scotland's membership of the EU under Article 49 of the Treaties change the situation as far as the Common Fisheries Policy is concerned, that being part of the acquis communautaire or, as some describe it, occupied legislative territory, and not up for discussion while admission negotiations take place.

This paper, produced by the Centre for European Reform (CER) does not touch on the fisheries issue but is of interest, nevertheless, as it deals with the whole thorny subject of a putative "independent" Scotland and its equally putative membership of the EU. As we have pointed out over and over again, the subject of fisheries cannot be separated from the subject of EU membership.

The Centre for European Reform is not a eurosceptic organization. Far from it. It is one of the UK's leading europhile or, to be more polite, pro-EU think-tanks. Its original remit of proposing necessary and, if needs be, tough reforms has been abandoned some time ago in favour of cheer-leading with the occasional suggestion that not everything within the EU is completely wonderful but most of it is.

Neither is the author of the paper, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, a eurosceptic. Indeed, he probably looks for his trusty cloves of garlic when any such person comes anywhere near him. His career has been entirely within the europhile establishment and like so many former Foreign and Commonwealth Office grandees, he finds it a little difficult to tell the difference between Europe (a geographic and cultural entity) and the European Union (a political construct) or to realize that the world is a little larger than either of them and Britain (including and especially Scotland) has historically looked to the rest of the world as much as it did to Europe.

So Lord Kerr's cautious admonitions are to be taken seriously. When he says that the path to EU membership for an "independent" Scotland is thorny, it is best to take note of it. When he explains all the difficulties that are likely to be encountered, including the undoubted fact that Scotland will cease to a member of the EU if it leaves the UK, Scots should pay atttention. When he then explains, quite rightly, that the membership negotiations will not depend just on Scotland, the remaining UK or Brussels but will involve all other member states whose vote will be needed in the final agreement, he shows up the superficiality of the SNP's understanding of the EU and its structures.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

About that reshuffle

The reshuffle is the lead story in the British media and has even appeared here and there in other countries. This is the last big one, we all assume, before the General Election in May 2015 (and what Scotland's position will be by then is unclear) so, give or take a change or two, this will be the team that will be leading the Conservative Party into that battle.

Some of the changes are not surprising. William Hague has been known as a part-time politician for some time and his departure was most likely suggested by him. He will earn a good deal more as a writer, after dinner speaker and general pundit than he does in Parliament even as Foreign Secretary though he might occasionally think back to the time when Margaret Thatcher mused about him becoming another Young Pitt. He did not. His successor, Phil Hammond, seems a little more aware of the reality of Britain's membership of the European Union.

From the point of view of the fishing industry the one departure, enforced, we are sure, that matters is of Owen Paterson from DEFRA. This is not good news. Mr Paterson made the odd mistake but he knows the countryside and refuses to go along with the fashionable views on the environment. He is also known as a man who is capable of holding independent opinions on various matters and of asking a large number of different experts on the subjects he had to deal with. His departure is seen as a sop to the Green lobby, which is rejoicing openly.

There is some silver lining for Mr Paterson: on the backbenches he will be able to speak out more openly. As a man who knows a good deal about the fishing industry and understands the pernicious and overwhelming nature of the Common Fisheries Policy, he will, we hope, make his views known in the future when he will no longer be hampered by a Cabinet position. It does not show the Prime Minister in a particularly good light, though.

Mr Paterson's successor is Elizabeth Truss, whose past experience tells us little about here ability to deal with DEFRA or with the various bits of EU legislation that her department is subjected on a daily basis.

So far as we can tell at this stage, fisheries will remain in the hands of George Eustice, a man who appears to believe in the teeth of all evidence that the so-called reforms of the CFP are genuine changes in a policy that cannot be changed without being dismantled. He also seems unaware of the fact that food labelling is wholly an EU competence. Maybe he is just pretending to b ignorant.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

From FAL's June Newsletter

First of all, here is an interesting time line that we have referred to before. It is always good to be reminded of such matters:

SNP TIME LINE -- from National Control to EU Integration 2003 Alex Salmond launches Bill to withdraw from Common Fisheries Policy.

2006 SNP October Conference, Richard Lochhead refers to ‘elephant in the room’ the CFP will always undermine our efforts to take the industry forward to better times. Only when Scotland regains control of our own waters will we be able to plot a course into calmer waters for our fishing communities”.

2007 SNP’s Manifesto -A better future outside the CFP The SNP will continue to work for withdrawal from the Common Fisheries Policy and will not support any future European Constitution that grants the EU "exclusive competence" over this valuable resource. We will work with our partners to enlist support for the repatriation of fisheries responsibilities to member states.

2008 31 July FAL’s first meeting with Richard Lochhead as Cabinet Secretary when he reaffirmed the SNP and therefore the new Scottish Government’s stated aim of withdrawal from the CFP and restoring national control.

2012 Your Scotland Your Future “With independence we will remain part of the EU.” Richard Lochhead 2014 Independence will result in direct representation in the European Union and ability to negotiate our priorities without compromise.

2014 The SNP’s policy of repatriation of fisheries, of the aspiration of national control has been discarded

So that's that. For whatever reason the SNP does not envisage an "independent within the EU" Scotland running its fisheries policy. Instead, the EU will continue to decide matters centrally, for political reasons and then generously hand over a few details of administration to the regions. Nor will Scotland be negotiating with Norway, Russia, Iceland or Greenland - the EU will be doing that.

That are other interesting pieces in the Newsletter, to be discussed and dissected in future postings.

The Daily Post has an article about what they see as a worrying development for Welsh fishermen.

Traditional sea fishing on the Welsh coast is in danger of of being wiped out under new EU rules due next year.

Scores of fishing families, many of whom have fished the coast for generations, have been thrown into a panic by plans to prohibit drift netting.

The blanket ban, due January 2015, was proposed following concerns some fishermen were flouting existing rules designed to protect tuna, dolphins, sharks and other marine animals.

Nothing wrong with trying to protect various marine animals who die unnecessarily in some of the drift nets. However, the Welsh fishermen say that this does not apply to them:

But fishermen on the Dee estuary claim the problem is limited to the Mediterranean and has no relevance to Welsh fishermen, who use small, mesh nets for catching plaice, flounder and sea bass.

If the ban goes ahead, some 70 vessels will be at risk around Wales as in-shore fishermen are prevented from using any other gear, such as fixed nets.

These matters should be discussed properly. Unfortunately, as long as we are in the Common Fisheries Policy (and as long as we are in the EU, we are in the CFP) this is not an argument that can be used. The policy may be implemented regionally after the so-called reforms but it is decided centrally, often as a result of political horse trading. (Well, all right, shark trading.)

On May 14, Richard Lochhead had an article in the Press and Journal in which he argued that a "yes vote" in the forthcoming referendum would mean Scotland would no longer be "a bargaining chip" (where do these people get their vocabulary?) but will be able to negotiate directly. It would appear that he has not noticed how little say any country that is part of the Common Fisheries Policy, i.e. of the European Union has in those negotiations unlike, say, Norway, Greenland, Iceland and even the Faroes. This blog has written on that subject repeatedly so all he or his minions have to do is to read it.

As we have not been able to find a link to it, we have reproduced a copy of the article here and hope our readers can still decipher it if they have not seen the original:

Of far greater importance is the response from FAL that was published on May 16:


Yes Vote means “direct voice”

Richard Lochhead Scottish Fisheries Secretary in today’s P&J “categorically assures” the fishing industry that the SNP will not use our fisheries as a bargaining chip to be traded away in any in EU negotiations.

Can the industry accept the assurance that Scotland will have sovereign control over its own destiny and full control over its fishing quota to protect an historic asset for future generations?

There is no evidence to support this assertion but there is overwhelming evidence to show the disastrous effects of the EU fisheries policy over the last 40 years on the Scottish (and indeed the whole UK) fishing industry and their communities.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Mr Lochhead is being completely disingenuous. Once more, in the desire to have a seat at the top table, he ignores the non negotiable acquis communautaire - the entire body of EU laws, including all the Treaties, Regulations and Directives passed by the Institutions, as well as Judgements laid down by the European Court of Justice.

The SNP’s slogan “Independence in the EU” is an oxymoron outside the minds of the SNP. There will be no sovereign control.

The acquis for fisheries is free access to waters on a non discriminatory basis for all member states and the EU’s exclusive competence in fisheries. That has not been changed by the so called recent reform of the CFP.

The acquis effectively ensures that the objectives of the Treaties regarding the EU fisheries policy are fulfilled - the political end game of an integrated EU fleet, operating in EU waters under a strategic policy agreed at EU level but giving Member States the semblance of authority by delegating to them implementation powers to operate in a regional context.

So in the face of this, what can Mr Lochhead do to protect the Scottish fishing industry? And it’s not just fishing.

In Treaty after Treaty — Maastricht, Nice, Amsterdam, Lisbon — ever more power has been removed from the UK (and Scotland as part of it) and channelled to the EU be it the economy, immigration, energy, trade, agriculture, fisheries or social policy.

That erosion of powers will continue if an independent Scotland becomes a Member State of the EU.

Outside the EU, on the other hand, an independent Scotland, as part of EFTA or an EEA Associate membership would actually acquire more freedom of action in its own Exclusive Economic Zone.

Perhaps this time Mr Lochhead and his colleagues will pay some attention to the arguments as they come from people who understand the issues.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Other places, other solutions

We have received an article from Cato Institute, a well-known think-tank in Washington D.C. on the subject of New England fisheries and the appalling problems it faces. Some of it will be very familiar to our readers: 

In a crowded meeting hall in Portsmouth N.H. [New Hamshire] the New England Fishery Management Council voted in January 2013 to recommend drastic new cuts to the catch limits for Atlantic codfish off the New England coast. Over the strenuous objections of local communities and fishermen the council proposed 77 percent reductions in the allowable harvest for each of the next three years in the Gulf of Maine and 66 percent cut in next year's catch on Georges Bank. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration approved the proposed catch limits and other "emergency" measures in May 2013.

New England fishermen and other opponents of the plan fear that the restrictions will doom the centuries-old local fishing industry. Plan proponents, however, counter that the measures are the only way to save the rapidly collapsing Atlantic cod industry. Unfortunately, even these severe new limits may be too little, too late. The latest measures follow years of mismanagement, overly optimistic stock estimates, and misguided fishery policies that failed to align the economic interests of the fishing community with the long-term sustainability of the fishery. In the 1990s, for example, the fishery stock assessments indicated that short-term catch limits and fishing effort reductions could rebuild the fishery stock and ultimately lead to higher long-term yields. Nevertheless, local fishermen and their political representatives vehemently opposed any such reductions.

All arguments that we have heard before together with some indication that decisions are taken for political reasons rather than economic or environmental. The article goes on:

It would be easy to attack new England fishermen for being short-sighted. To do so, however, would ignore the incentives they face—incentives created by the existing regulatory structure. Incumbent fishermen have little incentive to agree to catch reductions because they would be unlikely to capture the full value of the rebuilt stocks. A rebuilt stock would encourage inactive trawlers to resume fishing and active trawlers to increase their fishing intensity.

The authors' proposal may sound radical but, as they point out, this has been discussed for a while and there is empirical evidence to prove that "property rights in fisheries through territorial or catch-share allocations among fisheries participants" can ensure an economically and ecologically sustainable fishing industry.

It is worth reading the whole article, as some of this blog's readers may not have thought about this idea before. However, FAL actually has discussed it and is, as an organization, opposed to the notion. Tradeable Quotas /Transferable Fishing Concessions and was originally in the proposals for the “reformed CFP” but “discarded” after opposition from all and sundry except the Commission. The reason for the opposition is obvious: this idea plays into the hands of those with the biggest economic clout to the detriment of the small communities.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Apologies and some news items

Firstly, a huge apology to all our readers for the unheralded and far too long break in this blog. There were good reasons for it, to do with health, both human and computer. However, the FAL blog is once again operations and we start with a few news items to whet everybody's appetite.

The Western Morning News reports that there will be CCTV cameras fitted to fishing boats to ensure that no discards are perpetrated. We should welcome the ban but it ought to be pointed out that the whole problem of discards was a symptom not the cause - the cause remains the Common Fisheries Policy, which remains a centralized structure where decisions are taken for political reasons at the heart of the EU. Maybe George Eustice does not realize this. FAL is ready to provide him with the necessary information.

This could be of interest to fishing organizations and individual fishermen who have something to contribute to the discussion. On March 31, a package of consultations was launched concerning the implementation of reforms to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Here, incidentally, is the consultation letter that may well have gone out to some of this blog's readers but can be asked for if not. And here is the Consultation Document that requires responses from fishermen and their representatives.

Finally, some news that might not be directly relevant to many readers but is of interest because of what it implies in political terms. Undercurrent News reports that

The European Union, Iceland, Norway and the Faroe Islands have agreed to increase the total allowable catch (TAC) of Northeast Atlantic blue whiting by 86% for 2014.

It will not escape our readers' attention that Iceland, Norway and the Faroe Islands do their own negotiating, which the UK does not and neither will an "independent" Scotland within the EU, should such an entity come about.