Tuesday, 16 December 2014

It's the policy not the quotas

UKIP is cock-a-hoop at this article in the Plymouth Herald.

FISHING quotas could kill off independent boats, fishermen have warned - and say they will be voting UKIP for “drastic political” change.

The comments came as fisherman at Plymouth Fisheries in Fish Quay met on Friday with Clare Moody, Labour MEP for the South West.

At least four boats moored in the quay were sporting purple UKIP flags.

When asked why fisherman were supporting Nigel Farage’s party, Bracken Pearce said: “Because what have the other parties done for us? The tweaks they are making aren’t working and we need some drastic change.”

One can understand the frustrations fishermen feel at yet another round of cuts in quotas based all too often on less than convincing evidence but it is about time they, their organizations, their spokespersons and, above all, politicians including those in UKIP understood the basic facts of life: it is not about the quotas but about the policy as a whole. As long as we are members of the European Union (and we hear more about that referendum than about Brexit from UKIP these days) we remain members of the Common Fisheries Policy; and as long as we remain part of that we do not control our fisheries and cannot do so. The quotas are a side issue. We need to concentrate on the main one.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Something a little different

Today is the Feast of St Nicholas, a fourth century Greek bishop and saint. He is usually associated with children and present giving. But he is also the patron saint of fishermen, which is appropriate to this blog as well as of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, pawnbrokers and students in various cities and countries around Europe and of the Varangian Guard of the Byzantine emperors, who protected his relics in Bari.

In Greece and Russia he is also known as Nicholas the Wonderworker because of the many miracles attributed to him. Hmmm. Perhaps we should invoke him more often.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Political developments

The Scottish referendum is over and we can turn our attention to other political matters among which Britain's membership of the European Union is one of the most important ones.

In connection with that we have to note that, unexpectedly, UKIP now has two MPs (as well as three peers). The two are Douglas Carswell, MP for Clacton and Mark Reckless, MP for Rochester and Strood. Neither of those seats is exactly a UKIP victory as both MPs were incumbents as Conservatives and fought the by-elections under a different flag. Mr Carswell, majority in this by-election was even more handsome than it had been in previous elections when he had stood as a Tory, even allowing for that fall in electoral turn-out. Mr Reckless, on the other hand, reduced his majority quite considerably.

Or, in other words, we have no idea how this will play in next year's General Election. It is reasonable to assume that Clacton will stay UKIP but that is less likely for Rochester and Strood and to this day we have not had a single UKIP victory for the Commons, which matters considerably more than the European Parliament.

Still, they are there in the House and will stay there till next May at least. Will this make any difference? This is what nobody can predict. Two MPs cannot make too much difference in either voting or debating matters though it is fair to say that Messrs Carswell and Reckless will have some support among members of other parties, especially the Conservative one.

There is also the possibility that one or two other MPs might decide to defect to UKIP and call a by-election with unpredictable results. So far, nobody is moving in that direction and Mr Reckless's result is not encouraging to anyone who might be thinking in those terms.

The problem is that UKIP has become a little unpredictable as well. The party whose purpose was campaigning for British withdrawal from the European Union (and, incidentally, from the pernicious Common Fisheries Policy) now prefers not to refer to that subject. Instead they concentrate on subsidiary subjects like immigration and focus their campaign on demands for a speedy IN/OUT referendum.

There are two problems with that. One is that the result of that referendum is moot. In fact, going by opinion polls, one would have to say that the likelihood of an IN vote is very high. It would, therefore, be inadvisable from our point of view to have a referendum too early, before we have organized our troops and, above all, marshalled our arguments that would have to include explanations of how we would exit and what would we do in the country afterwards. How would we organize fisheries in this country once out of the CFP? There are many ideas around and we need to have some clear arguments.

Secondly, if it is a referendum one wants then a Conservative government is a better bet than a Labour one and if the Conservative lose too many seats to or because of UKIP then we shall have Ed Miliband as Prime Minister and he has already made it clear that he is not interested in calling a referendum.

The two UKIP MPs have not been back in the Commons for very long and have not, therefore, had a chance to speak about many matters, including fishing. We must assume that they oppose the CFP but we do not know what they think should be put in its place. In fact, we do not even know how they envisage Britain's exit (known in some circles as Brexit) and what they think should be done afterwards. What sort of agreements will have to be negotiated, for example? We must wait and see what they will say.

On the other hand we do not have to wait for another MP, one who has made it clear that he has not the slightest intention of leaving the Conservatives for UKIP and that is, former Cabinet Minister for the Environment, Owen Paterson.

Readers of this blog know Mr Paterson and his ideas as he was spokesman for fisheries before the 2010 election and is responsible for a detailed plan for the British fishing industry outside the EU and the CFP. (It seems not to be available any longer on the Conservative website so we shall have to find another link for it.) The policy was produced in 2005 and was accepted as such but was discarded when David Cameron became leaders. Its details may well be out of date slightly but it is a strong set of ideas that one can build on.

Mr Paterson has made a speech to a reasonably eurosceptic think-tank, Business for Britain and he called on the Prime Minister to invoke Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon that lays down the procedure for a member state to leave the European Union before any renegotiation. (As a matter of fact, this is considerably stronger and more outspoken than the usual mealy-mouthed pronouncements by Business for Britain and its various spokespersons.)

The prime minister's promise last year to hold a vote on Europe in 2017 if the Conservatives win the next election was seen as an attempt to halt the rise of UKIP, which senior Tories feared could prevent them from winning an overall majority at next May's general election.

But four days after UKIP defeated the Tories in the Rochester and Strood by-election, Mr Paterson suggested to Mr Cameron he had to be prepared to leave the EU if he wants negotiations on a new relationship with Brussels to succeed.

He urged him to give a manifesto commitment to invoking article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

This would give formal notice of Britain's intention to quit the EU and would spark two years of negotiations ahead of a 2017 referendum.

Unlike calls for a referendum and chatter about immigration (important or otherwise) this goes to the heart of the problem: Britain's membership of the EU, the need to leave and to negotiate a different arrangement. So far there has not been a response from Downing Street, which indicates that Mr Cameron and his advisers take this development very seriously. At least, we hope that is what it indicates. Because this is, indeed, a serious development. A senior Conservative MP with a great deal of experience and with every intention of staying in the party and fighting the battle has stated the need for a real policy on the subject.

James Delingpole puts it all much more forcefully on Breitbart-London, adding for good measure that UKIP is keeping out of the spat because they do not have a real EU exit strategy. This from a man who has been seen for a while as little more than a spokesman for UKIP is quite a strong statement.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

We will remember them

For once, a posting not about the common fisheries policy or about political shenanigans.

Many readers of this blog would have taken part in local ceremonies of remembrance but those who were in Whitehall, watched on TV or listened on the radio to the grand and moving ceremony at the Cenotaph would have noticed that a wreath was laid on behalf of the Merchant Mariners and the Fishing Fleets. That is as it should be. Without them the war on the sea could not have been fought and many lost their lives in both big wars.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Readers of this blog may have noticed that there has been a certain amount of entertainment as the Members of the European Parliament threw around their insignificant weight and held up various Commissioners' confirmation for all sorts of reasons.

They were not altogether happy with the nomination of Karmenu Vella as Commissioner for Maritime Affairs, Environment and Fisheries but it was not the fisheries part of the portfolio that bothered them.

Members of the European Parliament’s environment committee have said they are still not satisfied with the positioning of environmental issues in the new structure of the European Commission. But they will not hold hostage the nomination of Karmenu Vella in order to get it changed.

What a relief, eh?

The European Voice ran a live blog about the confirmation as it happened.

There were a few mildly interesting moments, the moment when Commissioner-to-be Vella held up photographs of his grandchildren not being one of them, except for the fact, not mentioned by him, that

the mother of one of those children sits on this environment committee. Miriam Dalli, a new Maltese MEP, is Vella’s daughter-in-law. She recused herself from participating in today’s hearing.

Much has been made of Commission President Juncker's restructuring of the Commission though we cannot tell how that will work until it starts working (or not). In any case, the main point about the Common Fisheries Policy being a centralized EU policy and decisions will be taken, for political reasons, in Brussels, remains.

David Keating did ask something interesting:

During his press conference I asked him if there is a risk that under the strategy identified by Juncker and himself to make sustainability and environment “everybody’s responsibility”, it actually becomes nobody’s responsibility – particularly if there is no vice-president for environment/sustainability.

He responded that this approach is better than having environment in its own silo, with policies being made without co-ordination with areas like industry and economy. Juncker’s new approach to the structure of the European Commission will mean a better result for the environment, he insisted.

We shall be watching Mr Vella's activity.

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?