Thursday, 28 November 2013

Fisheries in an "independent" Scotland

As the SNP's intention is to have an "independent Scotland within the EU", we cannot do anything but put that word in quotation marks. Whether you want to be in the EU or not (and we do not), that is not independence, merely membership.

On Wednesday the White Paper, Scotland's Future - Your Guide to an Independent Scotland (not forgetting our proviso) was launched. Also to be found on the Scottish Government's website.

Chapter 8 deals with Environment, Rural Scotland, Energy and Resources, the first two of which entirely and the last very largely are EU competences, so the role of the "independent" Scottish government and parliament will be to implement those directives, regulations and decisions.

Fisheries comes under that heading, too. (See p. 282 in the pdf document or you can download it as an e-book but you will still have to find p. 282.)

In 2012, Scotland accounted for 87 per cent of the total value of UK landings of key stocks, representing 37 per cent of the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of these stocks available to the EU. However, Scotland receives just 41 per cent of the European Fisheries Fund allocation to the UK, despite having a far higher share of both the UK sea fishery and aquaculture sectors. As a result of being a low priority for the UK in EU negotiations, Scotland receives just 1.1 per cent of European fisheries funding despite landing 7 per cent of the European Union’s wildcaught fish310 and accounting for more than 12 per cent of EU aquaculture production. Scotland is the world’s third largest salmon producer with 83 per cent of UK aquaculture production by volume.

Our fishermen need a voice at the top table in Europe. Despite two thirds of the UK industry being based in Scotland, Scottish Ministers have not been allowed to speak on behalf of the UK in Europe, even on occasions where the interest is almost exclusively Scottish. This means that Scotland’s representatives – who are closest to the needs of the Scottish fishing sector – are not able to ensure that their voice is properly heard.

Which is all very well but a couple of things seem to have been neglected: Scotland's voice is not going to be particularly strong as it will be a small member of the European Union with very few votes in the Council; and, secondly, many of those problems go beyond the EU and Scotland as a member state will not be taking part in negotiations with Norway or Iceland as the EU will be doing it on the country's behalf.

There is a great deal more of the same but those two problems are not even mentioned, let alone responded to. Just how will an "independent" Scotland ensure that it gets anything at all out of the negotiations within the EU where decisions are taken by 28 countries and how will it ensure that its interests are adequately represented in international negotiations? After all, it is not going to be like Norway.

Here is the list of priorities for action:

Our priorities for action

If in power after the 2016 election we will:

■■ prioritise the needs of the Scottish fishing industry and aquaculture in European negotiations

■■ protect Scotland’s fishing quotas, preventing fishing quota being permanently transferred outside Scotland and safeguarding Scotland’s fishing rights for future generations

■■ use Scotland’s fishing levies to promote Scottish seafood. In an independent Scotland the industry’s levies will remain in Scotland to support the Scottish industry’s objectives and priorities for our catching, onshore and wider seafood sectors,

We are sorry to have to point out that whoever wrote those words does not even begin to understand how the Common Fisheries Policy functions, let alone what its purpose is.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Norway and fisheries

No doubt, readers of this blog would have heard the Prime Minister and other fervid supporters of Britain's EU membership talk dismissively of Norway's position in the European Economic Area (EEA) but not in the European Union (EU).

Or, in other words, Norway is in the Single Market but is not part of the rest of the EU legislation and is very jealous of her ability to dismiss that legislation if it does not suit the national interest as not being part of what they had agreed to when the EEA Agreement was signed. The UK, let me remind my readers, can do no such thing. Mr Cameron, this country's Prime Minister, does not think that would suit Britain as that would mean that we would just "“just accept all the rules of the Single Market, pay for the privilege of being part of it and, as it were, be governed by fax rule".

Let us be charitable and assume that it is ignorance rather than a desire to be economical with the truth that inspired Mr Cameron to make that statement.

A new paper published by the Bruges Group, The Norway Option by Dr Richard North, goes into the subject in some detail, showing how many of the decisions the EU implements are actually made at a higher, international level and how important Norway's role is in a number of those organizations while the UK is represented by the Commission and, possibly, the Council.

Fishing does not come under the Single Market though the original CFP was set up through sleight of hand, by using Treaty Articles that applied to trade. (Here, here and a letter by Tom Hay here.)

Let us now have a look at how "powerless" Norway, who remains outside the CFP,  is in the question of fisheries. This is what Dr North writes on page 16 of the pamphlet:

As regards the European Union, the EU ratified the UNCLOS [UN Convention on the Law of the Sea] agreement in 1998, and subscribes to the FAO codes, the combination being part of the external dimension of the Common Fisheries Policy.42,43 Although the CFP is not part of the internal market acquis and is not part of the EEA Agreement, trade in fish and fish products is covered, and to some extent is affected by these international treaties and agreements. Norway, of course, represents herself on the relevant bodies, but EU Member States are represented by the European Commission and the EEAS[European External Action Service].

As regards the CFP, much of the current provisions are hedged by the international agreements, to the extent that it would be very difficult for individual member states to formulate their own independent policies. This is especially the case as the EU has also concluded or is party to multiple bilateral and multilateral treaties with neighbouring fishing states. For instance, it lists eleven with Norway, of which three are bilateral, eight with Iceland, and one with the Faroes. These inter-relate with regional organisations such as the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC), to which the Russian Federation, Norway, Iceland, Denmark (in respect of the Faroe Islands and Greenland) and the European Union are parties.

Even before that, on pages 12 and 13 we can read this:

Codex Alimentarius promulgates international food standards, which are then adopted regionally and locally. All EU Member States are members of the governing commission. In 2003, the European Community joined, sharing competence with EU countries depending on the level of harmonisation of the respective legislation. Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009, the EU became the body of record. The EU and its Member States draw up EU position papers on the issues discussed in the Commission, the various Committees and Task Forces. The Committee on Fish and Fishery Products is hosted by Norway.

Just in case anyone can misunderstand the implications, on page 31 there is a clear explanation:

For another example, in Codex Alimentarius negotiations, the UK and other EU member states have ceded authority to the EU on some technical issues, allowing exclusive EU “competence”. By contrast, Norway is not only an independent member but, in hosting the Fish and Fisheries Products Committee, is the lead nation globally in an area of significant economic importance to it. It is thus able to guide, if not control, the agenda on standards relevant to this product group, to which the EU then reacts. In all respects, Norway has a far greater say in Codex Alimentarius affairs than does the UK.

Outside the framework of the EU, Norway is thus able to make its voice heard on the international stage, permitting it to express its own interests and take up its own negotiating positions. It can also initiate rules on its own account, without first having to seek EU approval. It has, for instance, been particularly active in exploiting the opportunities afforded by international conventions.

Whether anybody really legislates or imposes rules by fax in this day of e-mail is an interesting question but whoever does that it is not the EU on Norway. It might happen the other way round. Oh, and let us not forget that in negotiations about fishing in the North Sea the UK is represented by the EU (as will be Scotland should it ever achieve that glorious aim of "independence within the EU"). Norway and Iceland represent themselves.

Purely technical problems (with internet access rather than fishing nets) made it impossible to post for a couple of weeks but we are now back and will post with renewed vigour.

Some catching up is in order. The European Parliament voted on October 23 "on the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, EMFF. The proposal to subsidise new vessels was rejected. MEPs voted for a cap that would force member states to choose between new engines and new jobs for young people".

So, Mr Cameron et al, what happened to that idea of restoring some control over fisheries to the member states who are actually doing the fishing, assuming they are allowed to do so? Should they not be the ones to decide what they want to do and plan according to what they see as the best way forward for their fishing communities?