Monday, 22 September 2014

The real fight starts now

Important though the Scottish Independence Referendum was, in some ways, as this blog tried to explain, it was something of a side issue for the Scottish fishermen. The fact is that had Scotland voted YES, had there been an "independent" Scotland within the EU as the SNP proposed it, the fishing industry would not have experienced any changes: within the Common Fisheries Policy plans and decisions would have continued to be taken centrally for political reasons. Scotland would not have been taking part in negotiations with Norway, Iceland or Greenland (well, Denmark on its behalf) and so-called reforms of the CFP would not have changed much in reality.

It is clear from the way the votes fell out that areas of Scotland where fishing is important voted overwhelmingly in favour of staying in the Union (and not in the European version of it, either). As did, incidentally, areas where oil is important.

So, now that the question of Scotland's role in the United Kingdom has been settle for some time to come, it is time to turn our attention to the real battle: the restoration of powers to where they belong and that is this country and its people.

There will be much on that subject in future postings. This is merely a battle cry.

Friday, 12 September 2014

The new Commissioner

Well, the job has gone to Malta and not to a landlocked country as it could have done so easily. The new Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries is Karmenu Vella, 64, a Socialist and long-serving politician. Doesn't that make one's heart lift in happiness? Come what may, Mr Vella will be considerably more important in decisions that relate to the Scottish fisheries than, for example, Richard Lochhead.

What can we find out about Mr Vella?

Mr Vella is a member of the Maltese Labour Party and has previously served in the government as Minister for Public Works, Minister for Industry and Minister for Tourism.

So he is going to know a great deal about fisheries. Of course.

Not that it matters. After all, he has advisers to advise him and he is, one assumes, picking his team, even as we speak. Whether there will be anyone there to speak for the Scottish fisheries is a moot point as his portfolio is to do with the EU and its policies. The UK is only one member state as will be Scotland, should it become "independent" within the EU. The only difference being is that, should such an eventuality occur, it will be a considerably smaller and even less important state. What a jolly prospect. The principles of the Common Fisheries Policy will not change, no matter which way that referendum goes.

In his mission letter to Mr Vella, Commission President Juncker said that he would like him to focus on the following:

◾“continuing to overhaul the existing environmental legislative framework to make it fit for purpose. In the first part of the mandate, I would ask you to carry out an in-depth evaluation of the Birds and Habitats directives and assess the potential for merging them into a more modern piece of legislation.

◾“taking stock of where we stand in the negotiations on the air strategy. We need to know whether our approach addresses the right sources of air pollution with the right instruments. In the light of your assessment, we can then see how best to conduct the negotiations.

◾“assessing the state of play of the Circular Economy package in the light of the first reactions of the European Parliament and Council to see whether and how it is consistent with our jobs and growth agenda and our broader environmental objectives.

◾“implementing the recently agreed reform of the Common Fisheries Policy to put the EU firmly on the path of a sustainable fishing sector and fishing communities.

◾“engaging in shaping international ocean governance in the UN, in other multilateral fora and bilaterally with key global partners.”

As we can see, the so-called reform of the Common Fisheries Policy has not altered anything (as this blog has pointed out a few times) - the fisheries sector remains a single one for the whole of the European Union with the ultimate aim of equal access for all member states.

Nothing but an exit from the EU and a restoration of the fisheries policy to this country will change that. Is that more likely to happen if Scotland goes "independent" or if it stays in the Union?

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

As Scotland approaches that referendum

We need to get certain things right. This blog, obviously, deals with issues of fisheries only but it is worth considering whether a YES vote would help Scotland's fishermen. In general, we have concluded that it will not as long as the intention is to stay in the European Union, that is the Common Fisheries Policy.

On top of that we do not think that any of the politicians who are taking part in the debate (more or less) understand certain basic facts or even stay true to one opinion. Here is a letter from Tom Hay, Honorary Chairman of FAL on Alex Salmond's changing views:

Alex Salmond’s Policies Past, and Present

In the House of Commons on 02/03/2004 Alex Salmond presented his Fisheries Jurisdiction Bill to withdraw from the Common Fisheries Policy and to restore National Control to Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

He began by saying: This Bill is supported by members of all eight political Parties represented in this Chamber, and is a plea for fair treatment from one of the great natural resource industries of our land, and whatever the fate of this measure today this is a demand which will return until it is successful.

He went on to say that fishermen regard this policy as a charade, a device to rob them of their birthright, and if we look back more than 30 years ago this country accepted the adoption of the CFP in negotiations to enter the Common Market, with its central provision of equal access to a common resource to support that view. Documents released under the 30 years rule show that this was done by the then Government in full knowledge of the possible damage to our own fishing industry.

Sadly however as far as I know he never presented it again.

He said if we were in a position where there were no fish in the sea, we might have to accept reluctantly that nothing could be done to sustain our fishing industry, although it would still be a very good reason for changing the policy that had brought this about. However, that is not the position. Even according to the hotly disputed ICES figures many of our stocks are in a robust condition such as haddock, prawns, herring and mackerel. The sea is teeming with fish but it may soon be empty of our fishermen.

How right he was! As a result of various de-commissioning schemes, 397 vessels have been removed from the Scottish demersal fleet, and during the same period 285 nephrops vessels have also been removed. A total of 682 vessels mostly of our larger ships have been broken up on the eastern shores of the North sea and elsewhere, to satisfy the shameful demands of the EU treaties which state that all Community fishermen must have equal access to, and use of the fishing grounds falling under the sovereignty and coming within the jurisdiction of the member states.

Thus Alex Salmond for years scathingly but rightly attacked the Conservative Party for surrendering our fishing rights and fish stocks to an alien foreign power in Brussels.

Now it appears that the very thing that he vehemently detested has become SNP policy.

In mid-summer 2013 the Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, publicly stated that Scotland is an ancient European nation, and that an independent Scotland will continue in European Union membership. Our country has the lion’s share of all the EU’s oil reserves, a huge proportion of the continent’s renewable energy as well as some of the richest fishing grounds.

Would Brussels want to lose such assets when energy security is one of the dominating issues of the 21st Century?. Would Spanish, French and Portuguese fishermen want to be blocked from fishing the lucrative waters in Scotland.s sectors of the North Sea, and West Atlantic, she continued.

The SNP should be thoroughly ashamed that by their actions their declared aim of EU integration at any price will result once again in our fishermen being treated as expendable, merely to satisfy the SNP’s nauseating ambition to get a seat at the top table in Brussels, where they will achieve nothing.

Thomas Hay

Honorary Chairman FAL

Succinctly put, as always. One can only marvel at the lack of logic displayed by the Deputy First Minister in her statements.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

And just to demonstrate reality ....

.... here is an interesting article published in the Daily Express. It is not particularly well written and the quotes from various eurosceptic organizations could be better phrased. (To be fair to the people who made those statements, it is possible that originally they were completely different.) Let us simply have a look at the facts and figures:

ALMOST £2.5billion of British taxpayers’ money is to be given to the Czech Republic by the EU – to help boost the landlocked country’s fishing industry.

The money is part of a £19billion package agreed by Brussels to help develop industries in the Czech Republic and tackle unemployment.

The unemployment in the Czech Republic is, in fact, rather high, the promised economic benefits of EU membership not having materialized, though it is a little lower than unemployment in the UK. However, there is more:
The fisheries sector, which accounts for just 0.04 per cent of the Czech Republic economy, will benefit from at least £24million of ring-fenced money.

That is the way fiscal matters are arranged in the European Union. Does Mr Lochhead really think anything will change if Scotland becomes "independent within the EU"?

There are times when explaining facts to politicians looks like a lost cause as anyone who has ever had to do so on the subject of the Common Fisheries Policy knows only too well. So, here we go again. If Scotland becomes independent of the United Kingdom (a big if but let us grant it) but a member of the European Union, its fishing industry will be part of the Common Fisheries Policy and it will not be taking any decisions on the subject. All decisions will be taken centrally for various political reasons to do with various issues that involve other member states. Scotland will not be negotiating with other fishing countries in the North Atlantic as Norway or Iceland do if it stays or re-enters the European Union. Of course, if it does not the situation will be different.

It is not clear whether Richard Lochhead understands this. A summary of the new Report on Scotland's Future and the Scottish Fisheries indicates that the intention is to stay in the European Union and to have an independent fisheries policy which is an illogical absurdity.

Mr Lochhead said that only independence will ensure Scotland’s fishing will be a national priority and ensure that the industry thrives for generations to come.

The five gains for the fishing sector set out in more detail in the report are:

• Fishing will be a national priority

• Direct representation in the EU and ability to negotiate our priorities without compromise

• Protection of Scotland’s fishing quotas

• Fairer share of EU Fisheries budget

• Ensure Scotland’s fishing levies promote Scottish seafood

Let us repeat it once again: within the Common Fisheries Policy, that is, within the European Union, fishing is not a national policy, it is what we call an EU competence and has been since the day the United Kingdom entered the Common Market though the arguments used for that surrender were dubious to put it mildly. (This blog discussed it here and here.)

The notion of negotiating anything with twenty-seven other countries (if Scotland becomes the twenty-eighth member) without compromise is .... well, how shall we put it .... Scotch mist. Scotland's priorities will not be considered to be any more important than any other country's priorities and they are all subsumed to the central politics of the European Union.

The same argument applies to Scotland's fishing quotas or to what any Scottish government might consider to be a fairer share of the Fisheries budget. They might get a reasonable share of Scotland's fishing levies to promote Scottish seafood but it is much more likely that there will be some complicated arrangement whereby the fishing levies will be allocated as the EU decides but some other funds might be given to Scotland for promotion of Scottish seafood somewhere or other.

The only thing that will change will be the number of votes in both the Council of Ministers and in the European Parliament. Scotland will have far fewer in both than the UK has now and cannot achieve much with. That Mr Lochhead does not mention.

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.