An excellent article by the great Bill Jamieson in The Scotsman, published on Remembrance Day, November 11, and a very good comment (as you would expect) from Roddy McColl of FAL under it. Actually, it's the second comment so you don't have to scroll far. The whole mess, called the common fisheries policy is outlined in it very briefly.
As it happens, there was a posting on the subject on November 10. Either we agree with Mr Jamieson or he agrees with us.
An excellent article by the great Bill Jamieson in The Scotsman, published on Remembrance Day, November 11, and a very good comment (as you would expect) from Roddy McColl of FAL under it. Actually, it's the second comment so you don't have to scroll far. The whole mess, called the common fisheries policy is outlined in it very briefly.
We now have an official list of the topics on which Prime Minister David Cameron intends to negotiate with the EU and its members (let us not forget that treaty changes will be required and those will need unanimous approval).
Open Europe gave its own analysis to Cameron's letter and in it listed the demands:
A “formal, legally-binding and irreversible” end to Britain’s obligation to work towards an ‘ever closer union’ as set out in the Treaty,
Legally binding safeguards to protect the integrity of the single market from Eurozone integration,
A more ambitious push on economic competitiveness consisting of further deepening the single market, cutting red tape and concluding FTAs with other global economies,
An enhanced role for national parliaments including a collective veto right over new legislation,
Four year restriction on new EU migrants’ access to UK benefits and a more general crackdown on abuse of free movement.
No surprises there and, as we suspected, there is no mention of either agriculture or fisheries, despite a near-universal agreement that the CFP has been an economic and ecological disaster.
The real Remembrance Day is on Wednesday but today there were wreath laying ceremonies across the country, in other Commonwealth countries and in a few that were not Commonwealth but where there are War Cemeteries. It was good to see the King of Netherlands, whose great-grandmother took refuge in London during the Second World War, standing besides Her Majesty by the Cenotaph and then laying the second wreath.
All the ceremonies are moving and many of them recall local heroes and organizations as this picture shows:
A memorial in Bristol ot the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets. Today, at the Cenotaph, wreaths were laid in remembrance of the vast contribution to the fighting and the survival of this country in two world wars by those two bodies. They both paid a heavy price and we will always remember their work, their courage and their sacrifice.
Remembering is important but it is not enough. We must look forward. We must work and fight (let's face it, this fight is not as dangerous as the ones the fishing fleets faced during the two wars) to restore a strong and successful fishing industry to this country.
One suggestion as an alternative to EU membership is the so-called Norway model, which would leave Britain in the EFTA (European Free Trade Area) and the EEA (European Economic Area) but return to her a good many other powers. There are, as it happens, a few problems with achieving this status in that Britain would have to rejoin EFTA, having left it when she joined the then EEC. Then she would have to join the EEA as a member of EFTA for which the agreement of every single member of that body would be required. These problems are not insuperable and there is good evidence that the present members of EFTA would quite like Britain to rejoin them.
The Prime Minister has already announced that he did not think the Norway option was the right one for Britain, basing his opinion on that old chestnut, "legislation by fax" though these days it would be by e-mail. Norway, this particular argument runs, has all the disadvantages of being part of the Single Market without the advantage of being there to negotiate the rules.
This argument, that will be used a great deal, is misleading to put it mildly. In fact the non-EU members of the EEA transpose a very small proportion of the EU legislation into their own, most of it having nothing to do with the Single Market. As to having abide by the rules of the country one trades with, there is nothing unusual about that. As only a very small proportion of British businesses actually trades with the Single Market countries (around 8 or 9 per cent) those regulations will not affect the others as they do now.
Most importantly, Norway controls her own agriculture and fisheries.
Nor is it precisely true that Norway has no say in various matters to do with regulations. The truth is, as we know from the state of play in fisheries, that a good many of the regulations come from bodies that are above or outside the EU. At these tables Norway sits in her own right while Britain tends to be represented by the EU.
All negotiations to do with fishing in the North Atlantic, as this blog has mentioned times too numerous to refer back to, are conducted by Russia, Iceland, Norway, Denmark on behalf of Greenland and the European Union. Not Britain or Ireland or Denmark on her own behalf. How bad is the Norwegian model precisely?
Discussing this and related matters in the Daily Telegraph Professor Iain Begg raises an important issue: not much is said about what Britain will look like or what her relationship with the rest of the EU, should the people of the country decide to vote to leave. This is, again, not precisely true. A good many people are discussing alternatives, even as we speak (or write) though HMG is keeping quiet on the subject. We know from certain casually leaked information that the Bank of England is certainly looking at alternatives and one would like to think that our over-lauded and over-estimated civil service is thinking along those lines though one cannot be sure. Big businesses are beginning to discuss the possibilities (and there are several) but it is in the interest of the IN campaign to emphasise that an OUT vote would be a leap into the unknown.
What Professor Begg and his ilk do not point out is that staying in the EU is also a leap into the unknown as we have no idea what it will look like in a year's time, let alone ten years or longer. After all, the EEC in which people voted to stay has changed beyond recognition in the years since the only referendum we had on the subject.
Brexit debates and discussions are taking off and it is hard to find the time to go to all the meetings, seminars and conferences, particularly as many of the arguments on both sides tend to be repetitions (over and over again) of those we have all heard and used ourselves in the last couple of decades at the very least.
Still, it is good to know that other people are joining in, occasionally even raising the subject of fisheries, which we think is not an enormously important topic but one that could appeal to many sections of the electorate.
Yesterday was the day of the City and Brexit, organized jointly by Business for Britain, who think Britain will do just fine outside the European Union and Business for the New Europe, who think we should stay in, mostly on the principle of holding on to nurse, for fear of something worse.
The general conclusion of the two longish sessions was that the City would survive outside the EU just as it has survived and flourished outside the euro and through a number of difficulties. The City might well do all right within the EU - has done so far - but the constant attempts to undermine it by ever more regulations that fly in the face of all economic thinking remains a danger.
What of other matters? Business for Britain has published a long document (and a short summary of it), called Change or Go in which it outlined a number of ideas about the changes we need to see in the EU; otherwise we should leave and that would not be a disaster. Far from it.
As it happens, those few at the conference, who spoke in favour of staying in and "working for change from inside" did not sound too convinced that it would work. Others said very firmly that we must wait and see what the Prime Minister comes back with but held out no great hopes. Several speakers maintained that the EU was not capable of the sort of change that was required in the twenty-first century and that, more or less is what this blog thinks about the common fisheries policy to which this country is tied while we stay in the European Union.
Going back to the Change or Go document we can see that the section that deals with the various possibilities of what might happen if Britain did decide to go includes a discussion on fisheries. The discussion is too long to quote in a mere blog but here are the main headings:
14.1 The UK would remain a member of all key international fishing bodiesFor the time being we shall leave it at that, though our readers will, no doubt, be interested in reading the details. In future postings we shall look at those details.
14.2 The UK could continue to cooperate with the EU on fishing
14.3 New fishing policy opportunities would become available
Worry not, we have been told whenever we have expressed certain reservations about the Common Fisheries Policy of which we shall continue to be members as long as we are members of the European Union, it has now been reformed and more sensible rules will be imposed. Please note the word "imposed". That is exactly what the CFP consists of: rules made at the centre, often for reasons of politicking between the member states and then imposed on all fishermen.
Take this story from Cornwall:
Cornish fishermen expressed concern about the fact that while there has been an increasing number of sporadic but significant hauls of spurdog (Squalus acanthias), no landing of the species has been allowed by the European Union since 2010.Let us hear it again for the great benefits of the CFP and how it has been reformed and made rational and local. (Yes, we are being sarcastic.)
These fishermen consider that it would be logical to think that a zero total allowable catch (TAC) for spurdog means a zero take or zero fishing mortality on the stock, but as spurdog are widespread and locally abundant throughout the Western Approaches and other areas of the North East Atlantic this is simply not the case.
The reality is that there are accidental by-catches of spurdog in many mixed-fisheries not just in Cornwall but around the UK, which inevitably leads to a level of fishing mortality of the resource.
Under the current EU management regime these perfectly good fish must be discarded whether they are dead or alive. There is no real benefit for the stock, fishermen or wider society under the current regime of discarding dead spurdog. This is a waste of a perfectly good food resource and is clearly not in line with the principles of the recently reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and in particular the much heralded Landings Obligation (“discard ban”).
The news that the EU has decided to cut Baltic catch limits for 2016 is, perhaps, of marginal interest to UK fishermen though some of them might fish in the Baltic, but we were intrigued by the following comment:
The EU introduced a reformed Common Fisheries Policy in January 2014 to end decades of overfishing and help dwindling stocks recover.
Under the new policy, the Commission aims to set catch limits at levels that ensure fish stocks never drop below the minimum level at which they can be fished without having an impact on the long-term stability of the population.
Let us have a look at the points made there. So the CFP had to be reformed in order "to end decades of overfishing and help dwindling stocks recover". Exactly, how long have we had this policy in place? Some decades and yet under its benign control there has been serious overfishing and stocks are dwindling.
During those decades we have had numerous "reforms" though this one has been touted as the biggest since .... oh ..... the last biggest. It seems that overfishing has continued and the stocks went on dwindling.
It seems that, despite that, nothing is being learnt. The Commission, we are told, "aims to set catch limits at levels that ensure fish stocks etc. etc.". Is that not what the Commission has been doing for all those decades during which there was overfishing and the stocks kept dwindling?
One immediate outcome of the so-called CFP reforms has been an increase in the discards, something that most fishermen and consumers would like to reduce to an absolute minimum. Of course, it is very difficult to do this if decisions are taken centrally for political reasons.
From the beginning of the year, boats had to start landing unwanted fish which were caught in their nets.
Incidents of throwing dead fish back into the sea had increased due to strict EU quotas on which fish could be landed in a bid to conserve stocks.
Not quite what the supporters of the CFP have been boasting about.
For quite a long time now (by that we mean some years of not decades) fishermen have been talking about the need to change fishing net designs to ensure that the fish caught was not the kind that had to be discarded. Had the UK been in charge of her own fishing industry with genuine devolution of decisions to regions, such changes could have been carried out a long time ago. As it is we had to wait for the EU and the 28 members of the common fisheries policy (some of whom carry out no sea fishing at all) to decide on this matter.
The Scottish Fishermen's Federation (SFF) has now received funding for trials of design modifications.
The money is from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) and Marine Scotland.
The first phase will run from now until the end of the year and aims to have sea-trials of new designs of nets.
No doubt this slow and belated attempt will also be promoted as a great achievement of the CFP and of the so-called reforms.
The 80 year old former MP for Grimsby does not seem to have lost his feistiness. In an interview with the Grimsby Telegraph he lambasted the Labour Party for keeping silent on the subject of Britain's membership of the EU. (In parenthesis we can note that perhaps we ought to be pleased the Labour Party has finally accepted the desirability of a referendum on the subject.)
The 80-year-old also says Labour needs to "formulate our own demands, give Britain some backbone and be prepared to campaign to come out unless we get the real concessions Britain needs but that soft soap salesman the Prime Minister daren't ask (for)."
In particular he added:
"The British people may on balance be frightened into voting to stay in the EU but they have strong lingering resentments which Labour should feel too. The Common Fisheries policy robs us of jobs, fish and seafood production , the Common Agricultural policy provides protection to French farmers but means food prices are still too high," he said.
It would be nice if some of the present day Labour MPs had something to say on the subject.
Bertie Armstrong chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has a surprisingly good article in The Scotsman in which he sums up how the question of fisheries should affect the way we think about the forthcoming EU Referendum. The summary of the advantages if Britain regains control of her fisheries is good as is his point that renegotiations should include the subject as well.
Alas, so far there is no sign that the Prime Minister and his team have any interest in discussing repatriation of fisheries as part of the new deal for Britain in the EU (should we decide to stay in).
The UK government (though, as we know, decisions to do with fisheries is not taken by that particular entity no matter how DEFRA preens itself) has banned Guernsey fishermen from UK and EU waters (in fact, EU waters since there really is no such thing as UK waters under the equal access of the CFP).
There appears to be some disagreement about events leading up to the ban. HMG says they have been negotiating since March and the ban is being used, they hope temporarily, as a last resort.
When the ruling was announced this morning though, Commerce and Employment Minister Deputy Kevin Stewart said the decision had come completely “out of the blue”.
The details seem a little complicated, though the BBC gives a good summary here.
The Fisheries Management Agreement means all commercial fishing within the Bailiwick's 12 nautical miles (nm) has to be licensed.
It also means Bailiwick vessels need licences to fish in EU and UK waters.
However, the lack of a quota policy has led to the UK suspending licences held by Bailiwick vessels from Saturday.
This decision does not prevent any Bailiwick fishermen from continuing to fish in local waters in accordance with their licences, but does prevent Bailiwick vessels from fishing in EU waters, which includes those of the UK. Guernsey's Commerce and Employment Department said it was "surprised and shocked at the short notice and lack of consultation".
It said George Eustice MP, UK Fisheries Minister, explained the move was in response to the States of Guernsey's policy of not applying UK quota controls to Bailiwick vessels in Bailiwick waters in accordance with the FMA. The BBC has approached the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for comment.
The Commerce and Employment department said not applying the UK quotas had been agreed in the Fisheries Management Agreement. It warned the imposition of the quotas could make many island fishing businesses "unviable".
Watch this space for updates on the story.
As we have mentioned on this blog, Sheryl Murray MP for South East Cornwall is now the Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Fisheries and we do expect great things from her.
She has written a piece for Conservative Way Forward about EU renegotiations and the fishing industry, which is good enough as a starting point but we do hope she will go further. Actually, we fully expect her to do so.
Most of the piece is a useful summary of the history of the fishing industry since the seventies and the unhelpfulness of the Common Fisheries Policy with which we agree entirely though we would have preferred greater emphasis on the fact that this is a political structure with decisions being made at the centre with close regard to the essence of the policy that Ms Murray does mention:
Enshrined in every Basic Regulation after that time is the Principle of, “Equal Access to a Common Resource”.This is enshrined because it is the basis of that agreement and has actually been in the treaties since the Maastricht one of evil fame.
The much touted reforms have not altered that by a whisker or a fishbone. Equal access and common resource are still the guiding principles.
Sheryll Murray ends the piece with the following words:
As David Cameron pushes for better terms for the British people in his renegotiation talks with the EU, we all have a unique opportunity to finally put fishing at the heart of discussions. Now is the time for the Prime Minister to rectify the dreadful mistakes of the past and include restoration of national control over the UK 200 mile median line limit so we can operate freely just like our neighbours in Iceland and Norway.
Indeed, we would like to be in the same position as Iceland and Norway: we would like to control our own fishing waters and negotiate on our own behalf. There is, as it happens, only one way of achieving that state of affairs: by leaving the Common Fisheries Policy and repatriating powers over the fishing industry to this country. So far, the Prime Minister has shown no sign of negotiating that exit.
There is an organization in Parliament called Better Off Out. It consists of a number of MPs and Peers who believe not only that we should have a referendum on whether we want to stay in the European Union - that battle seems to have been won with only the SNP, rather bizarrely, opposing it - but also that we should eventually get out. The group also includes other organizations and individuals who share that view and, already, the discussion on how best to win that referendum has begun.
FAL's representative contributed an obvious idea: the Common Fisheries Policy is an economic and ecological disaster and those so-called reforms have changed nothing seriously. (There will be some more blogs on that subject in the near future.) Withdrawal from it would be greeted on all sides of the political spectrum though possibly not by the SNP, whose thinking about the EU remains erratic.
There are two ways of using this. One is to keep insisting that David Cameron, in his negotiations, put repatriation of the fisheries policy on the table. Some preliminary work has been done by Lord Stoddart of Swindon on that as this blog has pointed out but HMG continues to prevaricate and side-step the issue. Could our readers not lobby their MPs on the subject? After all, the Prime Minister wants to bring back the best deal for the country and what could be better for it if the management of fisheries as well as negotiations with other fishing countries such as Norway and Iceland were back in our hands?
Secondly, we can start trying to persuade people that if we cannot get control of the fisheries back (or control of anything else) we should leave the EU through legitimate means and think about how we would run affairs in the business ourselves.
As this blog reported Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked HMG whether they intended to discuss repatriation of agriculture and fisheries (the last a potentially very popular move in this country) in their negotiations about EU reform and got a very evasive answer.
Not satisfied with that he went back into the fray and asked HMG:
further to the Written Answer by Lord Gardiner of Kimble on 11 June, whether the Prime Minister has yet discussed with other European Union leaders the repatriation of agriculture and fisheries policies to member states, and what position he has taken in those discussions.
Um, no, is the answer though phrased somewhat differently by Lord Gardiner of Kimble or, to be quite precise, his minions:
Discussions are at an early stage. My reply of 11 June referred to some of the areas where the Government believes the EU needs to change.
It did not mention fisheries. Does that mean that it might be raised as a subject at some later stage?
Sheryll Murray, MP for South-East Cornwall, who has been involved in various organizations to do with fishing, such as Save Britain's Fish and FAL, has put up this message on her wall on Facebook:
I was very pleased to be elected Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Fisheries and am hoping the Group will undertake some reports on various fisheries issues. I am pleased that the group has elected Vice Chairmen from Labour, Liberal Democrat, SNP and SDLP parties and look forward to working together to get the best for our fishermen.
I would like to pay tribute to Austin Mitchell who was Chairman of the Group for so many years. Indeed, I attended many meetings of the Group myself as an Industry representative since 1991.
We look forward to working with Sheryll and have already approached her with a hope and expectation of seeing many useful reports on the reality of the Common Fisheries Policy.
The blog will have a full list of the members as soon as it will be available.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon, a fighter of many years' standing against the European Union and, particularly, against the Common Fisheries Policy, put down the following Written Question:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will press for negotiations for the reform of the European Union to include the repatriation of agriculture and fisheries powers to member states.
If there is one set of powers we need to repatriate it is that of fisheries but is the Prime Minister likely to negotiate that? Well, not according to HMG's reply:
The Prime Minister has started to discuss his plans for EU reform and renegotiation with other EU leaders. He has been clear that the plans involve reforming welfare and immigration rules, increasing economic competitiveness and cutting red tape to create jobs and growth for hard working families, and protecting the UK’s interests outside the euro. It also means halting the constant flow of powers to Brussels including by ensuring a stronger role for national Parliaments.
Is that a yes or a no?
The European Commission has published its annual consultation paper in preparation for setting next year's fish quota later in the year. It is now asking for the views of Member States, the fishing industry and non-governmental organisations in regional Advisory Councils, as well as interested citizens and organisations via an online public consultation. The input will be used by the Commission when it will be making for the 2016 fishing opportunities during this autumn.
You can find the full text of the Consultation on the fishing opportunities for 2016 under the Common Fisheries Policy here and the conditions for the consultation here.
In Westminster the debates on the Queen's Speech go on and the SNP representatives, having made themselves somewhat objectionable by their behaviour in and out of the Chamber, are settling down though they will insist on wearing a white rose, which they insist is that of Scotland while others suggest might be of Yorkshire. We suspect that discussion will run on and on.
One of the speakers in the debate was Stephen Gethins, MP for North East Fife, an almost unexpected victory for his party, and the SNP spokesman for Europe. He is also a man who has spent his career in the NGO sector, much of which receives money from the EU. As has been pointed out on this blog, the SNP stand on "Europe" is somewhat incoherent and, at present, they seem to be against the IN/OUT referendum, with Nicola Sturgeon, the incoming First Minister maintaining that it would be undemocratic to impose the results of that referendum on Scotland.
There are two points that Ms Sturgeon seems to have ignored. One is the obvious one that the people of Scotland had voted decisively to stay in the United Kingdom and did so in the full knowledge that there might soon be an EU referendum, which will be done on a national and not regional basis. Unless Ms Sturgeon is arguing that the people of Scotland are uniquely stupid and, therefore, their opinion can be set aside as being of no real value backed by no understanding, she had better accept that. We may add that if Ms Sturgeon really knew Scottish history and the history of Scotland in the world, she would realize how very untrue that is.
Secondly, as we have suggested before, it is not impossible that in the IN/OUT referendum Scotland as a whole will also vote for the UK to come out of the European Union. What then? What will Ms Sturgeon say then?
Back to Mr Gethins, who made a very creditable maiden speech, observing all the rules, thanking the Speaker for the help the new boys and girls on the block had been given and referring with admiration though obvious political disagreement to his predecessor in North East Fife, Sir Menzies Campbell.
He then enumerated the various developments in his constituency, all of which require international trade, something we would have even outside the EU but, clearly Mr Gethins thinks that because the products of the excellent distilleries in his constituency need to be and will be sold, we ought to start thinking about a common EU defence policy. Not a particularly logical thought.
However, it seems that not everything in the garden is lovely:
None of us on the SNP Benches is saying Europe does not need reforms. The common fisheries policy has had a devastating impact on communities across my constituency in the East Neuk of Fife and elsewhere across Scotland, as my colleagues will testify. Similarly, the expensive practice of moving the Parliament from Brussels to Strasbourg every month defies any logic in these times of straitened budgets.
Gosh, really? You mean the devastation that the CFP wrought on the British fishing industry is in the same category as the, admittedly ridiculous, monthly circus of moving the European Parliament from Brussels to Strasbourg (which is also written into the treaties, incidentally)? Do Mr Gethins's constituents know that his thinking is along those lines?
More to the point, exactly how does Mr Gethins propose to reform the fisheries policy in any meaningful way while we stay in it and in the EU?
It has taken us a little while to take stock of the post-election situation and for that we apologize to our readers. A rather boring election campaign was followed by an exciting election night and the results were unexpected in many quarters. For those of us who predicted a small Conservative majority the sight of so many commentators and pollsters with, not to put too fine a point on it, egg on their faces, was quite a pleasure.
Still, one needs to get over that and look at what is happening. A Conservative government, with no coalition partner who can be blamed for things possibly going wrong is something that will take some getting used to. In the first place, that means an IN/OUT referendum on the European Union as it was made clear in today's Queen's Speech.
My government will renegotiate the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union and pursue reform of the European Union for the benefit of all member states.
Alongside this, early legislation will be introduced to provide for an in-out referendum on membership of the European Union before the end of 2017.
The SNP are already making noises in favour of another Scottish "independence" referendum, should the UK, as a whole, vote to leave (that is when they are not breaking Parliamentary convention by rushing in to occupy long-standing members' places and applauding their leader for making a fairly pedestrian speech). What remains unclear is whether that demand would still be made if the vote in Scotland was clearly in favour of Brexit - a word we must get used to as it will be around a lot.
The SNP's situation is rather curious. Out of all the parties it has done best of all under the first past the post system yet it has, though rather half-heartedly, shown some support for those who are calling (as it happens after every election) for a reform of the system towards some form of proportional representation. The truth is that a national PR system will leave the regional parties like the SNP and Plaid Cymru nowhere while a regional PR system will not satisfy those who think that electoral reform will get rid of anomalies. After all, it can hardly be considered as fair to have a party with 56 seats on 4.7 per cent of the vote when the Liberal-Democrats have 8 on 7.9 per cent and UKIP only e on 12.6 per cent, if one considers that the national vote is what matters. Those who prefer a system that links electors directly with the representative they vote for, that is their MP accept these anomalies, knowing full well that there is no such thing as a completely fair system. The truth is that fairness in politics is well nigh impossible to define, let alone put into place.
It is interesting to compare the SNP votes with those cast in the independence referendum of last year, particularly as we hear a great deal about this being a sort of a second referendum without anybody saying so. In fact, the question of Scottish independence was not raised during the electoral campaign and it is hard to prove that all those who voted for the SNP did so because they believed in it.
In fact, the SNP vote, at 1,454,436 was lower than the Yes vote in the referendum, 1,617,989, let alone the No vote at 2,001,926. The turn-out, at 71.1 per cent was higher than UK average at 66.1 per cent but considerably lower than the referendum turn-out at 84.59 per cent. It is, in the opinion of this blog, hard to prove that the overwhelming SNP success on May 7 was really a vote for Scottish independence, which was roundly rejected in the referendum.
So much for that. What of the SNP's view on the European Union, the country's membership of it and, above all, on the common fisheries policy. This blog has maintained for a long time that the SNP's understanding of the common fisheries policy is faulty to put it mildly (here and here among others).
It would seem that others have noticed problems as well. David Torrance, a well known historian, biographer and commentator on Scottish affairs wrote two days ago in The Herald that the SNP's position on staying in "Europe" was incoherent.
Europe is one of those issues on which the SNP has an apparently simple position (pro) but which, on closer examination, becomes a bit of a mess. Shortly before last year's European Parliament elections Mr Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon et al started inserting little caveats into their pronouncements, largely to the effect that the European Union wasn't perfect, "far from it".
But to my knowledge there's been no attempt to explain in what way they would help make it a more perfect union. Indeed, there's little evidence the SNP has done any serious thinking about the EU since around 1988, when it committed to "independence in Europe", a slogan rather than a policy.
Even that didn't make an awful lot of sense: why so alive to sovereignty within the UK but relatively relaxed when it comes to the EU?
But it goes deeper than that, for the roll call of things the SNP doesn't like about Europe is quite long: the single currency, Common Fisheries Policy and closer fiscal integration, which the present First Minister has several times made clear she doesn't support. Even the European Convention on Human Rights (which exists separately from the EU) has come under fire from Nationalists, chiefly its ruling against a blanket ban on voting rights for prisoners.
Then there's the rhetoric. SNP press releases rail against the "Tory obsession with ripping Scotland and the rest of the UK out of the EU" and Scotland being "dragged out" against its will. Yet when Unionists deployed similar language to describe Scotland vis-Ã -vis the UK they were accused of being alarmist and melodramatic. Similarly, it's difficult to argue that Scotland leaving a highly-integrated UK would somehow be hassle free but the UK exiting a much looser union would "threaten" jobs and the economy, yet that's exactly the SNP's position.
The one thing we do know (for the time being) is that Alex Salmond will campaign anywhere and with anyone for the UK to stay in the EU and that he thinks he is a much better man to lead the IN campaign than the Prime Minister. Well, that is until he changes his mind again.
On one issue Mr Salmond is right in the article linked to above: Mr Cameron has not so far mentioned "replacing the Common Fisheries Policy which is a key failure of the European Union and has never done anyone any good!". The trouble is that Mr Salmond has no clear ideas of what he wants to replace the CFP with and how would he go about doing so within the European Union where any real changes to the fisheries policy would require a treaty change with all that entails.
Meanwhile, the Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan, an unashamed outer though prepared to come up with ideas for David Cameron to use in his negotiations, thinks that the Prime Minister could ask for a great deal more than he has mentioned so far. One of the things he could ask for would be Britain's exit from the common fisheries policy. Yes, that would require treaty changes but any serious reforms would require that and if those reforms are not serious they are not worth negotiating for.
Among other things the Queen's Speech touches on further developments in the process of devolution:
My government will also bring forward legislation to secure a strong and lasting constitutional settlement, devolving wide-ranging powers to Scotland and Wales. Legislation will be taken forward giving effect to the Stormont House Agreement in Northern Ireland.
My government will continue to work in cooperation with the devolved administrations on the basis of mutual respect.
My government will bring forward changes to the standing orders of the House of Commons. These changes will create fairer procedures to ensure that decisions affecting England, or England and Wales, can be taken only with the consent of the majority of Members of Parliament representing constituencies in those parts of our United Kingdom.
There is much talk about letting Scotland have the fiscal autonomy its First Minister apparently has asked for on the grounds that a real fiscal autonomy would not be to the SNP's taste. Yet, we in FAL and on this blog think that there is another way the SNP can be put on the spot as well and, maybe, induced to change its policies.
Why not take up Mr Salmond's rather inadequate suggestion and develop it by making a withdrawal from the common fisheries policy and a complete renegotiation of fisheries agreements with other EU member states on the basis of the UK's independent control of its fishing grounds one of the cored demands? Given what a mess the CFP has been over the years, it is likely to be a very popular policy across the political spectrum.
Officially election campaigns in this country last three weeks but this one seems to have gone on for many months already, frequently hitting a level of silliness that seems unparalleled until we recall past levels of silliness. It would not be a good idea to predict results as opinion polls seem very close and there are several imponderables. But it would not be unreasonable to look over the parties and their attitudes and policies (if one can call them that).
This is going to be a make or break election for UKIP and its leader, Nigel Farage. The party has done reasonably well in the last couple of years, coming top in the elections for the European Parliament, though on a very low turn-out, and acquiring two MPs though neither of the seats was an actual victory but a re-election of a sitting member under different colours. Will they be able to build on that? The opinion polls are not particularly sanguine as UKIP’s support wavers between 13 and 15 per cent, which is likely to fall once the campaign starts in real earnest and is, in any case, spread across the country. The Liberal-Democrats may be getting worse results in the polls but their support is more concentrated in certain areas.
Unfortunately, from our point of view, UKIP has more or less abandoned any discussion of Britain’s membership of the European Union or exit from it. Even when their candidates speak with fishermen they express shock and disgust at cuts in quotas without bothering to go into any depth on the subject that is the common fisheries policy.
As far as the EU in general is concerned, UKIP is concentrating on two issues, one is immigration, the basics of which are a little more complicated than they make out and the other is the referendum, which they, officially, would like as soon as possible, regardless, it sometimes seems, of whether we are likely to win it or not. It is, in fact, the likelihood or otherwise of the referendum (promised by the Conservatives, not promised by Labour and semi-promised by the Liberal-Democrats) that will mean there will be no real discussion of the European Union and Britain’s role in it during the election campaign. The emphasis will be on possible renegotiations and whether they are possible and on when a referendum might take place (not, we can confidently predict, this year).
We would prefer to see some ideas about the way forward for Britain within the EU and discussions of possible withdrawal, its method and possible consequences. In connection with that we would like to see a serious attempt by the main parties to create a fisheries policy, perhaps on the lines of the one Owen Patterson put together when he was Spokesman on the subject and which has long ago been removed from the Conservative Party website. In any case, it would need updating. In view of the general shelving of the EU as an issue with nothing more than a discussion of a referendum this is unlikely to happen either across the UK in general or in Scotland in particular.
There remains the question of the SNP. At various times before the Scottish referendum this blog discussed the party’s views and understanding of fisheries and came to the conclusion that it was lacking in any sense of reality. This does not seem to have changed since the referendum in which their main policy plank – “an independent Scotland within the EU” – was rejected without taking away, it would seem, from the party’s electoral popularity. As things stand they are likely to be the leading party in Scotland but that does not mean that the much touted coalition with Labour will happen. Certainly, the possibility has been denied several times by Ed Miliband, the Leader of the Labour Party and has not, precisely, been welcomed by the SNP’s leadership though the occasional tantalizing hint has been thrown out.
If this article is a little gloomy it is because one cannot help feeling gloomy as one surveys the electoral scene. Will the election change anything? As far as Britain’s role and membership of the European Union and, consequently, of the common fisheries policy, no, it will not. The Conservative Party has promised an IN/OUT referendum and that makes an important difference between the two leading parties. If they form the next government we shall have to start preparing seriously for that referendum; if not, we shall have to carry on arguing our case, in particular about fishing. Either way, the first thing FAL and other organizations of that kind will have to do after the election is to put together a viable fisheries policy that depends on us leaving the CFP and that can be and will have to be presented to the various parties.
After a two-year hiatus the EU-Morocco Fisheries Agreement has been renewed. A couple of weeks ago the Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, visited "the third edition of the Salon Halieutis, organised under the high patronage of King Mohamed VI, to underline the importance of the fisheries partnership and cooperation between the EU and Morocco".
The Agreement now comes under the supposedly reformed "new" but not that different from the "old" Common Fisheries Policy.
The new CFP seeks to improve the scientific knowledge underlying the fishing rights granted under the agreements, strengthen their governance and better promote sustainable fishing. As part of each of the EU's SFPAs, there is a significant investment in sectoral support, in Morocco's case EUR 14 million are earmarked to support the local fisheries sector, which seeks to provide increased job opportunities for local fishermen, help build a robust fisheries infrastructure, train up local seamen and get them working on EU boats, and exchange ideas and best practices.
In return the countries in question have to allow the far bigger and better equipped EU fishing boats into their waters.
Not all is plain sailing, though, as this article on EurActiv makes clear.
A respected international lawyer has published an article, claiming that the fisheries agreement between the EU and Morocco is illegal, as it doesn’t contain a specific reference to the fishing zone off the coast of Western Sahara, and that the UN Security Council (UNSC) should examine the issue.
Hans Corell, Former Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and the Legal Counsel of the United Nations, writes in the International Judicial Monitor that UNSC should examine the legality of the EU-Morocco fisheries agreement.
Corell, who, at the request of the UNSC delivered in 2002 a legal opinion relating to the Western Sahara, says that in the meantime, he has followed developments from a distance.
“A very serious question in this context is the fisheries agreement between the EU and Morocco which does not contain one word – apart from the cryptic “sovereignty or jurisdiction” in Article 2 (a) – about the fact that Morocco’s ‘jurisdiction’ in the waters of Western Sahara is limited by the international rules on self-determination. Instead, the agreement and its protocols are replete with references to the “Moroccan fishing zones”, Corell writes.
He further argues that to be legal, an agreement of this nature would have to contain an explicit reference to the fishing zone off the coast of Western Sahara, defined by coordinates.
The Commission is denying that there are any problems.
The fisheries agreement between the EU and Morocco is “in full compliance with international law,” said Enrico Brivio, the European Commission Spokesperson for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.
“The Fisheries Partnership Agreement protocol is in full compliance with international law,” Enrico Brivio told EurActiv, the leading online media on EU affairs, adding that all of the EU’s agreements apply to the Western Sahara region.
“Detailed reporting obligations on Morocco on use of Commission sectoral support ensure that the protocol serves the interests of all local population,” Brivio pointed out.
He also stressed that the protocol’s clear reporting mechanism represents an additional tool to monitor compliance with international law.
Will that off-hand response be sufficient to deal with intricate international legal matters?
George Eustice, the Fishing Minister, never ceases to astonish one. I suppose one could say that about a lot of politicians but he is a prime example of a man who quite clearly has not understood anything about his brief. How else could one explain his statements as quoted in the Plymouth Herald?
In his desire to destroy support for UKIP some fishermen in the Plymouth area he announced that those fishermen (and, presumably, others) are better off within the common fisheries policy than they would be outside it. Does he mean that if Britain was outside the EU, outside the CFP legislation would have to be passed by people like him and he is manifestly not fit for the job? Somehow we do not believe that but that is what his statement sounds like.
“One thing I would say is that EU rules are far too prescriptive and create too many unintended obstacles,” said Mr Eustice, who represents his home constituency of Cambourne, Redruth and Hayle in Cornwall.
“There is a common EU objective to fish sustainably but there is now more flexibility with how we deal with that nationally.
“For example, if a fisherman finds he’s caught far more haddock than he expected, then he can place that catch within their cod quota instead. With that [negotiation], we can change policy for the better.”
Cod quotas were due to be cut by 65 per cent last year, said Mr Eustice, but successful EU lobbying reduced it to a 26 per cent cut.
The Cornishman said he sympathised with fisherman who have “their boats tied up because they have used all their quota” but there was a need to “show restraint” if the fishing industry was to prosper.
Surely a Minister whose job it is to know about the fishing industry must realize that the whole problem with quotas, though important to those it affects, is not the cause but the effect. The cause of the problem remains the common fisheries policy, a centralized, political structure in which decisions are taken by 28 member states for reasons that often have nothing to do with fishing.
Nobody knows exactly when that IN/OUT EU referendum will take place and whether it will do so at all. The Labour Party is refusing to commit itself or, to be quite precise, its Leader is refusing to commit himself, assuring all and sundry, including, it appears, members of the Shadow Cabinet, that there is no need for such a referendum but none at all. Should his party win the May election, on the other hand, he may well change his mind.
It is quite likely that the SNP Leader has ambivalent feelings about a referendum of any kind at the moment and it is hard to tell what the Liberal-Democrats think though, it is believed, that most of them favour some kind of a referendum. (They, too, burned their fingers on the AV plebiscite.)
The Conservative Leader has given us assurances that there will be an IN/OUT referendum, probably in 2017 though he is also promising some kind of negotiations in order to introduce radical reform in the European Union. Good luck with that. So far, the only change and reform in the EU has moved in one direction and it is not the one most people in the UK want. We can agree on that, though the same opinion polls that tell us so, also tell us that far fewer people are prepared to vote to leave the organization with which they are seriously dissatisfied, namely the EU.
Let us assume that there will be a referendum, probably in 2017, perhaps a little later, depending on whether the EU decides to have another treaty or not. If we, that is the people who have looked at the present situation, which includes the disaster called the common fisheries policy and have looked at all past attempts to bring in meaningful reforms and the failure of those attempts and have decided that this construct cannot be changed and the UK would be a good deal better off outside it are to win the referendum, we need to produce cogent arguments. As Alex Salmond found out in the recent Independence Referendum, they have to be very cogent, indeed, and reliance on vague promises of great benefits whose source is unknown will be insufficient.
Already we have heard noises from the supporters of the status quo about there being no alternative; about Britain (the country with the fifth largest economy in the world) being too small to survive outside a big block; about the impossibility of making our voice heard on important issues outside the EU; and so on.
This blog has pointed out on a number of occasions (too numerous to link to) that, far from that being the case, it is within the EU, within the common fisheries policy that we cannot make our voices heard. Norway and Iceland, even Greenland or, rather, Denmark on behalf of Greenland, negotiate themselves on matters to do with the North Atlantic fisheries, yet they are all much smaller than Britain; Russia may not be smaller but its economy is, considerably so. The UK, on the other hand, does not negotiate - the EU does and it does so on behalf of the 28 member states.
Many of us have been saying all this for some time through Save Britain's Fish and the Fishermen's Association Limited but have frequently been pushed to the fringes of the political debate. There is, however, a change in the political air.
This week there were two events in London, one an evening panel discussion at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) and one a half-day conference, actually in the European Parliament building (formerly the Conservative Central Office), organized by the Conservative MEP David Campbell-Bannerman. Both dealt with the problem of alternatives to EU membership. What can Britain do if she leaves this somewhat sclerotic, economically laggard and politically undemocratic structure?
Not all the alternatives were covered but even the ones that were: taking up our WTO membership rather than letting the EU negotiate on our behalf, re-joining EFTA, trying to join the EEA (European Economic Area), which would have some serious disadvantages, staying in a customs union with the EU or signing a special agreement while acting as an independent WTO member, all have one thing in common that is of interest to readers of this blog: all of them would release the UK fishing industry from the dead grip of Brussels and hand it back to Britain, its Parliament and the industry's members.
The point is that there are many alternatives to the EU and they can be investigated and discussed. The notion that we have nowhere to go and had better stay where we are "for fear of finding something worse" is ridiculous and needs to be destroyed.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the reduction in the number of offshore patrol vessels available for fishing protection on their meeting their responsibilities within the United Kingdom economic exclusion zone.
It is worth noting that what is also at stake is the equal observance of the many various rules. HMG in the shape of Lord de Mauley replied:
Responsibility for fisheries protection in English waters lies with the Maritime Management Organisation (MMO). Fishery protection services in English and Welsh waters are provided by the Royal Navy (RN) under a formal agreement with the MMO. The service is provided by 3 offshore patrol vessels of the Fisheries Protection Squadron.
The MMO has identified that the provision of 500 days at sea is currently sufficient to enable the UK to meet its obligations for at sea surveillance and inspection under the Common Fisheries Policy. This assessment is kept under constant review as enforcement obligations and priorities change.
As the following figures show this minimum commitment has been maintained for the last 2 years and is projected to be delivered again for the year 2014 – 15.
2012 – 13 562 daysbr/>
2013 – 14 512.5 days
2014 – 15 509 days (projected)
The financial contribution to the RN for this service has been reduced in return for a move from dedicated 24 hour fishery protection days to 9 hour days. These days enable surveillance and inspection of fishing vessels to be undertaken during key fishing periods. The minimum number of days required has been maintained during the current financial year despite the fact that one offshore patrol vessel has been deployed elsewhere for part of the year.
Well, that is very nice, of course but it does not precisely answer the question about the impact. We are merely being assured, as so often before, that whatever the government does is perfectly adequate. Past experience, on the whole, would indicate otherwise.
In case anyone has missed it (make that most people rather than anyone), Latvia has taken on the rotating presidency of the European Union. So, naturally, their representatives have been presenting plans for the next six months and, we have to assume, somewhere among those plans there is the usual one about cutting red tape and encouraging business and entrepreneurship.
Here is what the Minister of Agriculture Janis Duklavs said to the Committee for Fisheries (PECH) in the European Parliament:
Multiannual management plan for Baltic Sea cod, Baltic herring and sprat stocks is the first multiannual fishing plan of the new generation. This file is essential for ensuring sustainability of the stocks and at the same time offers more predictability and certainty to the industry. The proposal is therefore on the top of the Presidency’s priorities.Let us note immediately the reference to the "competitive EU fishing fleet". Whether it is competitive or not is irrelevant. Nothing much in the EU is competitive, after all. The point is that it is an EU fishing fleet. Or, let me spell it out, for the benefit of politicians, should they bother to read this blog, no amount of reforming has changed the fact that the UK (and that would have been true for a Scotland "independent within the EU) has no fishing fleet of its own while the country remains part of the Common Fisheries Policy, that is, part of the European Union.
Proposal for Regulation on introduction of the landing obligation: the Latvian Presidency will be fully involved in the outstanding work on the new rules. The obligation to land some fish species entered into force on 1 January this year, but fishermen still have no clear rules on the application. The EU institutional agreement on this file should be completed as soon as possible.
External dimension of fisheries (sustainable fishing partnership agreements with third countries, negotiations with coastal states and representation in international organizations): the Minister underlined the importance of fisheries agreements for a viable and competitive EU fishing fleet in high-seas. It is expected that the work on negotiations for agreements with Mauritania, Kiribati, Seychelles and other countries would be smoothly continued in the first half of 2015.
That, of course, applies to the internal arrangements as well. Decisions will be taken for political reasons at the centre and relayed down to the regional institutions for them to implement. That, in essence, is the extent of those much-vaunted reforms.