The last stage of negotiations on a multi-annual plan (MAP) for certain fish stocks in the Baltic Sea has started, and the stakes are high.
Representatives of the Council of the EU, the European Parliament, and the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries are the key actors. The Council and the Parliament, with mediation by the Commission, must agree to a compromise. In EU speak, this process is known as trilogue negotiations.
Multi-annual plans are intended to minimize decision-making based on short-term interests and maximize the likelihood of sustainable fishing practices. In 2013, the European Union agreed to an ambitious reform of its Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), a historic decision. The policy includes a binding commitment to end overfishing and restore fish stocks—the simple policy requirements for a healthy marine environment, profitable fisheries, and viable coastal communities.
In the current negotiations over the Baltic MAP, the European Parliament agreed on April 28 to an amended version of the European Commission’s proposal. The Parliament’s approach meets the requirements of the CFP. That ran counter to a move earlier in April, when the Fisheries Council, made up of ministers from each of the 28 EU member states, adopted a position—called a partial general approach—that contradicts the CFP and could prolong overfishing in the Baltic for years.
The Commission’s role is principally to inform and moderate the discussion and endorse the outcome. Until the Lisbon Treaty came into effect just over six years ago, the Council had sole authority to set fisheries regulations. It now shares this power with the Parliament, whose 751 directly elected members co-legislate on most fisheries issues. This dynamic often results in the Council seeking to force the Parliament into making larger compromises.
The Parliament played a leading role in securing the ambitious CFP reform in 2013 and can again show leadership by holding firm to the CFP in negotiations on the Baltic multi-annual plan.
The Council—now represented by Latvia, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency—typically has access to greater resources and expertise than the Parliament, because it is able to rely on the ministries responsible for fisheries from 28 member states. By contrast, the Parliament has only a small number of fisheries advisers and staff. It is represented in the negotiations by the Polish MEP, Jarosław Wałęsa.
While Wałęsa might not have an army of support, he has a strong mandate from the Parliament, which represents the more than 500 million EU citizens. Many of these citizens encouraged parliamentarians to support the ambitious CFP reform in 2013 and a strong multi-annual plan for the Baltic this year. In these negotiations, Wałęsa needs continued backing to persuade the Council to agree to a plan in line with the CFP, which could help end overfishing and rebuild depleted stocks.
The MAP for the Baltic is the first of its kind under the reformed CFP. It is critically important that it reflect the objectives set in the CFP and provide the tools needed to achieve them. As guardian of the treaties, the Commission is responsible for ensuring that the negotiated plan is fully in line with the CFP. We will be following the negotiations closely and supporting Wałęsa in holding firm on the Parliament’s position.
Uta Bellion directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ European marine programme.