There is an interesting article in The Scotsman by Simon Collins, the Executive Officer of the Shetland Fishermen's Association, entitled Scots fishermen face tidal wave of red tape. We cannot really argue with the essence of that title only with the implication that somehow they did not face that tidal wave before. But then Mr Collins, while capable of seeing some of the effects, seems unable to understand the main cause of the problem, being rather a supporter of the European Union and of the Common Fisheries Policy or so it would appear from this article.
Mr Collins starts by giving a lyrical description of the Shetlands and its fishing industry but soon switches to the problems, which are well known: too much regulation, no attention paid to what fishermen want or know, decisions taken centrally regardless of what happens in reality. Yes, yes, yes. We have been saying the same thing and blaming on the Common Fisheries Policy, which is dedicated to all those ideas.
Not so Mr Collins. He thinks the EU is a splendid institution, really, but the Commission is a bit of a problem.
The Commission is an unelected body of career bureaucrats dedicated to the implementation of European law and the enforcement of what it regards as EU policy. It has long outgrown its original role as an administrative arm at the service of elected European leaders, and is now firmly convinced of its right to frame policy as well as implement it. In many areas of life, this might not matter too much. Brussels’ tentacles do not extend absolutely everywhere. Unfortunately for the fishing industry, and especially so for island communities like Shetland that depend so heavily on it, fisheries conservation is one of the few areas of “exclusive competence” reserved to the European Union.
Well, up to a point, Mr Collins. The Commission is certainly "an unelected body of career bureaucrats" but it was never envisaged as "an administrative arm at the service of elected European leaders", whoever they might be. As it happens, the EU has no elected leaders.
The Commission is seen as the guardian of the treaties, which are in their consolidated form, effectively the constitution of the European Union and of its member states. That includes the United Kingdom and will include, should things turn out that way, an "independent" Scotland within the EU (a contradiction in terms if ever there was one).
Furthermore, the Commission is, according to the rules laid down by successive treaties, the sole originator of legislation in the EU. Proposals mostly go to the Council and the European Parliament but if there is disagreement between those two bodies, the Commission, also according to the rules laid down by the treaties acts as the co-ordinator of the legislation.
In other words, it has always been far more than just an administrator that carries out politicians' instructions (incidentally, Commissioners tend to be politicians) and that is because the creators and supporters of the EU or those of the latter who understand the structure do not believe in governance by politics: they consider that it should be done by management as politicians tend to be short-sighted, governed by party loyalties, yadda-yadda-yadda.
Thus, the idea, expressed by Mr Collins that if politicians in the EU just get a grip on the Commission, clip its wings and contain its powers all will be well comes from that well known volume: Tales of Porcine Aviation. It is the Council, who are, indeed elected politicians (at least nominally) who make the decisions on fisheries, which, as Mr Collins rightly points out, is and has been since 1970 wholly EEC/EC/EU competence.
What good does it do us that they are elected? They are not elected by us. There are 28 members in each Council of Ministers and they are not going to pay too much attention to the Shetland Islands, Scotland or the UK if they can do a deal for their own benefit. As this blog has mentioned before, the UK does not take part in discussions about fishing in the North Atlantic and neither will an "independent" Scotland within the EU. Iceland, Norway and Russia do plus Greenland through Denmark. The EU will negotiate on our behalf as it sees fit and much of that negotiation, as we have pointed out over and over again, will not be based on knowledge and information supplied by fishermen or their organizations and not even on scientific evidence but on political calculation. That is how it will be as long as we remain in the Common Fisheries Policy.