Select Committee on European Scrutiny First Report


FISHERIES: CONTROL MEASURES IN INTERNATIONAL WATERS OF THE NORTH-EAST ATLANTIC


(21760)
12754/00
COM(00) 686

Draft Council Regulation amending Council Regulation (EC) No. 2791/1999 laying down certain control measures applicable in the area covered by the convention on future multilateral co-operation in the North-East Atlantic Fisheries.


Legal base: Article 37 EC; consultation; qualified majority voting
Department: Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
Basis of consideration: Minister's letter of 30 November 2000
Previous Committee Report: HC 23-xxix (1999-2000), paragraph 44 (15 November 2000)
Discussed in Council: 17 November 2000
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared (decision reported on 15 November 2000)

Background

  15.1  Although most fishing takes place within waters under national jurisdiction, it has also proved necessary for organisations such as the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) to manage fish stocks in international waters. In July 1999, the European Commission put forward a proposal[30] to implement two recommendations agreed at the 1998 NEAFC annual meeting. These introduced a control and enforcement scheme applicable to vessels flying the flag of Contracting Parties operating within the NEAFC area, together with a programme to promote compliance by non-Contracting Party vessels.

  15.2  Although not in themselves contentious, the proposals did raise the allocation of responsibilities for enforcement, in that the Commission envisaged inspection vessels being provided by the Member States, whereas it had done so itself in other comparable situations. In the event, the Fisheries Council agreed on 16-17 December 1999 that, since there was insufficient time for the Commission to equip itself for this task in 2000, the Commission and Member States would co-operate in order to ensure a Community inspection presence in NEAFC waters in 2000. However, the Commission would submit by 30 September 2000 proposals, which the Council would adopt by the end of this year, for more permanent arrangements to apply from 2001.

The current proposal

  15.3  Although no official text was available, we received an Explanatory Memorandum of 9 November 2000 from the Parliamentary Secretary (Commons) at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr Elliot Morley) saying that the Commission had failed to come up with proposals for a definitive regime. Instead, it was proposing a roll-over of the current arrangements for a further three years, on the basis that it would submit proposals on future monitoring in NEAFC waters by 30 September 2003 at the latest. The Commission had argued that this timetable was necessary in order to allow it to carry out a thorough evaluation of the effectiveness of the current arrangements, and the resource implications of enforcement. It had also said that a three-year period ties in with a wider-ranging review it is carrying out of enforcement in other regional fisheries organisations; with the validity period of another draft Council Regulation on Community financial assistance to Member States for expenditure on fisheries enforcement; and with the completion of the review of the Common Fisheries Policy.

  15.4  However, the Minister observed that "it is more likely that the Commission is aiming instead to establish the arrangements on a permanent basis and probably hopes to avoid re-opening the question on whether it should take on responsibility for enforcement in NEAFC". He also said that the Government's preference was to press for a shorter roll-over period of one year, for a review of the implementation constraints of the current NEAFC control and monitoring arrangements to be concluded by 30 March 2001, and for Commission proposals for a definitive scheme by 30 June 2001.

  15.5  In the conclusion to our Report of 15 November, we said that we noted — and shared — the Minister's feeling that the Commission's main aim was to avoid re-opening the question of responsibility within NEAFC waters, in the hope that the present arrangement, under which Member States are in practice bearing this burden, would become established as a matter of course. We also commented that it was likely that, by delaying a proposal until now, the Commission considered that, following the logic of the agreement last December on a one-year extension, it could claim that there was insufficient time left at this stage to equip itself for this task in 2001. We therefore accepted that, in the circumstances, the Government's intention to argue for a shorter roll-over period of one year probably represented the least damaging outcome, and, on that basis, we cleared the document. Nevertheless, in drawing this unsatisfactory state of affairs to the attention of the House, we also asked the Minister to let us know the decision taken by the Council.

Minister's letter of 30 November 2000

  15.6  In his letter of 30 November, the Minister says that the Fisheries Council agreed a compromise allowing a two-year roll-over of the existing ad hoc arrangements in the North East Atlantic, without prejudice to the wider policy on how enforcement work in regional fisheries organisations could best be carried out. He enclosed with his letter the text of a Council Declaration, which the UK had pressed for, noting the Commission's intention to table a Communication on a range of control issues, and expressing its own intention to reach conclusions on these questions by June 2001.

Conclusion

  15.7  We are grateful to the Minister for this further information, which we are now drawing to the attention of the House. It does not, of course, affect the clearance we gave this document at our meeting on 15 November.


30   (20414) 10074/99; see HC 34-xxviii (1998-99), paragraph 19 (20 October 1999), HC 23-i (1999-2000), paragraph 10 (24 November 1999), and HC 23-vi (1999-2000), paragraph 9 (26 January 2000). Back


 
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