Environment Commissioner, Janez Potočnik, is an ambitious and tenacious man. In the dying days of this Commission, he is trying to push out perhaps his most ambitious law to date and overhaul Europe’s Waste law.
One of the last acts of his fellow Commissioners will be to back a call to effectively ban the landfill of household waste by 2030. Recycling targets across the board will be ratcheted up.
You would have thought that the Commission would not try and push out a major initiative in its dying days in office. And, whilst that is the normal rule of the Commission, like all good rules, there are exceptions, and here the President voiced support for the unwritten initiative before, so the current Commissioners are going to bind their successors with an ambitious new policy and draft law.
The Commission’s internal sign off process to proposed laws, known as Inter Service Consultation, is carried out in relative secrecy. It seems to have started on 27 May and it will last 15 working days (weekends and public holidays excluded). It will be interesting to see many objections come in from other services.
The Environment Commissioner has a good track of getting proposals out that he wants. Other Commissioners will have their eyes focused on post-Commission life. Commissioner Tajani, whose DG Enterprise Department, did so much work to block DG Environment’s initiatives, is now a MEP. It will be interesting to see if others inside the Commission, Governments or industry raise question marks about an outgoing Commission pushing out ambitious legislative proposals in their last moments in office.
Banning landfill will be a very tough act for some countries to ever meet. If adopted, local authorities may need to re-open long term waste recovery contracts with waste management companies who’ll need to invest in state of the art technology to divert household waste. Households will land up paying any additional prices for their waste collection. Many governments, still operating under tough fiscal restraints, will find it hard to pay for necessary infrastructure improvements.
This overhaul of Europe’s convoluted waste regulation regime will be one of the first new pieces of legislation for a new European Parliament to consider.
June 2, 2014
A few weeks ago, Aaron and I presented at the European Public Affairs Action Day, the “grand-messe” of public affairs professionals. We talked about different approaches to political communications and presented our 5 golden rules to political communications to win votes. For those who couldn’t join, here is a summary!
Aaron and I have been lucky to closely follow the recent reform of the European Common Fisheries Policy for the Swedish foundation BalticSea2020. After 2 years of intense campaigning, we could draw a number of conclusions from the success of the campaign (you can see what the campaign was about here).
What made this campaign different? How did we win? You learn a lot spending 17,520 hours campaigning on one issue, but I think it can be summarised into 5 golden rules.
The number of stakeholders in Brussels can be quite overwhelming – yet, once we had done the necessary background research and network analysis (a good book here on understanding the power of social networks), we were able to identify the maximum 200 people who mattered for our client’s issues, at the EU and national levels.
These are the ones we then focused on and built relationships with to create the broader winning coalition. Also, we realised it was not worth spending too much energy on the opponents, but rather help our supporters – which luckily we had with Fish For the Future, and also potential new followers.
This might sound simplistic, but understanding what makes people tick is your key to success. As Chris Rose explains in his book, you need to understand where your audiences are coming from and what will make them listen to you.
Being in the shoes of the politicians can be very useful – we are all too prone to use jargon and technicalities. To be fair to them, politicians cannot be experts in every issue they deal with on a daily basis, from banking regulation to horsemeat scandals and marine protected area. Being able to communicate important and useful information in a way they understand will make your contribution valuable and acted on. See here how fisheries can be made simple and sexy.
- Be Reactive and Adaptable
Although it was tempting to have a two year strategy plan, we have to admit that we don’t have a crystal ball and we are not psychic. Instead, we had rolling three-month action plan which allowed us to regularly review our short to mid-term strategy, adapt to new opportunities, and adapt our work. The ability to adapt and react to changing situations allowed us to remain relevant to our audiences. It also allows any client to have a clear picture of how things really are progressing.
As Aaron likes to say: “telepathy doesn’t work”. You need to get out there, talk to the people who matter, hear their questions and answer them in an understandable way. We were lucky enough to have a client who was an excellent spokesperson for his organisation.
You need someone who can gather support, motivate and convince. Some people are naturally more at ease talking on behalf of their companies. In truth, with a small amount of coaching, most people can become persuasive advocates for their interests.
- Invest the Necessary Resources
Success requires resources: time, people, and money. It requires commitment and endurance. But, it is all worth it to win a vote
Sophie and Aaron
February 12, 2014
With the new Energy and Climate Framework, the European Commission strikes a fine balance between climate protection and competitiveness, with the latter taking precedence.
Last week, the European Commission came forward with the most wide-ranging set of energy and climate proposals since 2008. The proposals, encompassing binding and non-binding commitments in GHG reductions, energy efficiency and renewable energy, will provide a framework for EU energy and climate policy for the next 15 years. To find out about the details of the package, read the FH analysis here. The 2030 Communication and the other proposals issued last week are reflective of two broad trends that are currently driving EU Climate and Energy Policy, 1) How difficult it is becoming to find a ‘grand bargain’ on key Energy and Climate issues at the EU level and 2) How the policy focus has shifted towards competitiveness.
Sticking a difficult compromise
Designing a new Climate and Energy Framework was always going to be contentious but after five years of expensive carbon abatement policies, coupled with recession and deindustrialisation, the political environment makes agreements on energy and climate matters increasingly challenging. For the 2030 Framework, tricky compromises had to be built between Member States with dissimilar energy mixes, between Directorate-Generals with non-complementary portfolios and between different industries who feel that their concerns have been ignored for too long.
- Compromising amongst Member States: Within Europe Member States have very different energy mixes and thus interests. By proposing a 27% renewable energy target but non-binding individual national targets the Commission has sought to strike a compromise between Member States such as the UK who wants maximum competency to determine its energy mix and Germany, who has decided to phase out nuclear energy and produce 45% of its energy from renewables from 2030.
- Compromising within Commission Directorates: Within the European Commission, varying DGs have very different priorities. While DG Climate Action was set up to turn the EU into a leader in the protection of the planet against climate change, other DGs such as DG Enterprise and DG Energy have grown increasingly weary of DG CLIMA’s policies. Indeed, the presentation of the package only came after a last-minute agreement between Commissioner Hedegaard and Oettinger. The Energy Commissioner was initially in favour of a 35% GHG reduction target.
- Compromise in the industry: The Commission was also keen to demonstrate its commitment to boosting industry in Europe, and show that the EU could stay ambitious on climate without the industry being hit. While lacking substance, the Commission did release an industry Communication “For a European Renaissance”. Most telling however was the Commission’s decision to reform the ETS through a supply adjustment mechanism which would not intervene in phase 3 of the ETS and which in their own words would be designed in such a way so as to “mitigate impacts on industry and sectors exposed to carbon leakage”. The Commission also announced that it would maintain its existing framework for determining sectors exposed to carbon leakage and continue to base its assessment on a 30 euro carbon price. This was a key request from DG Enterprise in the grand bargaining process and goes against Ms Hedegaard’s ambitions expressed last year to significantly reduce the number of sectors exposed in order to reestablish balance in the system.
Has the balance tipped towards competitiveness?
Looking back at the last decade, the proposals seem to represent a new policy focus for President Barroso, if not a policy u-turn: after making jobs and growth a priority with the Lisbon Strategy in the beginning of his mandate and spearheading climate change policy in 2008, the end of his term will be marked by a shift towards competitiveness. At an event last week Dominique Ristori, who has recently succeeded to Philip Lowe as Head of DG Energy, said that in 30 years industry has never been listened to as much as now. He might be right. The 2030 Communication does indeed reveal a shift towards competitiveness to alleviate industry concerns. Even if the Commission noted in a new study that energy prices and the ETS had little impact so far on industrial competitiveness, it also anticipates an upward pressure on energy costs in the EU.
Next steps now
The documents issued last week by the Commission will form the basis of the institutions’ agenda for the coming year. It is unclear at this stage what could be the focus of the mandate received by the Commission from European leaders at the March Council, as the 2030 consultation revealed divergences on targets and the level of ambition. Whilst some Member States are against a new GHG reduction target before any global climate agreement (Poland, Czech Republic, Romania), a majority is likely to support the 40% target proposed (UK, France, Spain, Denmark). It will also remain to be seen if Member States can support the flexible approach proposed by the EU executive on renewables. Will it be considered robust enough by Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Portugal, whose Environment ministers had called for a renewable energy target in a letter to the European Commission in December? On the other hand, the wait-and-see approach to energy efficiency should suit Member States.
Next week in Strasbourg MEPs are likely to confirm their call for 3 binding targets: 40% GHG reduction, 30% renewable energy and 40% energy efficiency. Based on initial MEP reactions and past experience, the Parliament will likely push for a much more ambitious package than proposed by the Commission. Will this be confirmed by the next Parliament, who will be asked to react to concrete proposals put forward by the Commission later this year? Let the bargaining begin!
Cillian O’Donoghue and Clara Lemaire
January 28, 2014
If Davos made people ‘feel like a kid-in-a-candy shop’, then the Energy Forum in Sopot, Poland triggered the same feeling among energy geeks. This year’s edition was held on 16-18 December 2013, and featured debates about about energy situation in Central Europe, the outlook for gas markets in Europe, the role of renewables in the national energy systems and how Germany’s ‘Energiewende’ will impact neighbouring countries. One could learn about the electricity grids between Lithuania and Poland; which direction Ukraine looks when it comes to its energy policy and how the Norwegian energy system influences Central Europe. Participants also discussed ‘local’ issues such as the role of coal, shale gas and nuclear energy in the Polish economy.
The event was a great opportunity to have a quick ‘crash course’ on what the Polish energy system currently looks like and what we can expect in the coming years. You can find some of the presentations and materials here.
Did you know?
- At the beginning of 2014, Poland will publish its 2050 energy strategy, which will showcase the direction the country would like to take in the next 30+ years. While details remain unknown, shale gas and trans-border gas connections will be featured. Security of supply will be also included in the strategy;
- In 2014, The Polish National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management will distribute 240 million Euro to support development of renewable energy in the country;
- In 2014 Poland may obtain 202 million Euro from the sale of CO2 emission rights, while in 2015 this figure could rise to 245 million Euro;
- The three biggest suppliers of electricity in Poland predict a 6 percent drop in the price of electricity in 2014;
- Polish shale gas regulation will most probably be sent for consideration to the Council of Ministers at the beginning of 2014;
- By the end of next year, Gas Transmission Operator Gaz-System will allocate 192 million Euro into the expansion of Polish gas infrastructure;
- A new Polish Law on Renewable Energy will come into force at the beginning of 2015.
And finally next year Poland and nine other Eastern European Counties will celebrate their 10th anniversary of EU accession. Much has changed since that time and countries are still very busy with improving their energy systems, ensuring security of supply and working out their own energy path.
January 10, 2014
2012 marked the 20 year anniversary of the European Single Market. Over these past two decades, European Union transport policy has been a central pillar of efforts to bolster the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital between the 27 EU Member States.
The transport sector should in many ways see itself as the enabler of the Single Market – the catalyst to the further deepening of trade and economic ties between EU members. Unsurprisingly therefore, transport is a hotly debated area in Brussels covering numerous policy initiatives across the different modes.
Mixed results for market liberalisation
The transport market liberalisation agenda remains high priority, although historically progress has been unequal across modes. Liberalisation of the aviation market in Europe in the 90s ushered in a period of unprecedented growth in air transport and introduced many new entrants and business models into the market. The low fares model has clearly been the major driver in this process. However, Europe’s airspace continues to be fragmented and the patience of EU regulators appears to be wearing thin with Member State reluctance to pool their airspace sovereignty within the Single European Sky process.
The road, port and rail sectors lag further behind. The recent Fourth Railway Package proposed by Brussels in early 2013 is yet another effort by the EU to break open the disconnected and oft protected national railway market. At the same time, the EU will be looking to extend cabotage rules in the road sector in the coming months, despite potential opposition from certain Member States wary of the impact on their own, fragmented, road haulage market vis-à-vis potential European competitors.
An ambitious frontrunner on environmental issues
In terms of environmental protection in the field of transport, Brussels has moved forward with (sometimes overly) ambitious policy goals. The automotive sector continues to be heavily regulated in terms of non-CO2 and CO2 emissions control, with increasingly stringent technological requirements set by Brussels periodically. Whether this stimulates innovation or restricts competitiveness of European producers remains the key open question.
Meanwhile, the EU’s efforts to bring international aviation within its cap and trade emissions trading scheme have been met with international outcry and threats of retaliation by its global trading partners. The move is currently on ice and has certainly provided food for thought for Brussels as it considers taking the same approach to the international shipping sector.
Passenger rights as a flagship
Most EU commentators would point to the passenger rights agenda as the bloc’s biggest success in the transport field – the topic that normally appears first in the table of contents for any European Commission-produced brochure on transport policy. The success of passenger rights legislation is perhaps debatable with significant cost concerns from industry and soon-to-be-addressed problems of implementation throughout the EU. However, it is likely that the rights afforded to EU citizens when, say, flying internationally, far outstrip those of travellers anywhere else in the world.
The changing global landscape
The EU’s detractors would argue that the focus on regulation over liberalisation has placed a net burden on Europe’s transport sector. European legacy airlines and automotive manufacturers continue to struggle faced with global competition, whilst the centre of gravity for the global logistics market seems to continuously shift eastwards.
At the same, the challenge of the EU’s transport agenda must always take note of the principle of subsidiarity. That is to say, the EU is wary of looking to regulate in the more localised aspects of transport policy which remain at the behest of individual EU Member States. Areas such as road safety, urban mobility and infrastructure development (outside of the power of the EU purse strings) have seen, and will continue to see, less influence wielded by the EU executive compared to the national capital.
With European Parliament elections approaching and a new European Commission due to be appointed in 2014, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for the European transport policy agenda. Clearly the completion of the single transport market remains an enormous undertaking and the voice of industry will be critical as the new political regime gathers momentum over the next 18 months.
Many of the future priorities will undoubtedly be wrapped up in the EU’s position more globally, as it faces up to rapidly changing trade and transport flows and questions about the bloc’s own economic competitiveness. It is indicative that the world’s three fastest growing trade routes essentially bypass Europe altogether (Asia-Africa, intra-Asia, and Asia-South America).
So whilst there will be continued emphasis in Brussels on getting Europe’s own house in order, this will ultimately be a hollow effort without a firm eye on the external dimension of EU transport policy, and the continued engagement of industry and other stakeholders in the process.
May 22, 2013
We all kick the bucket. It’s a given together with taxes, as the famous saying goes. Before we do, however, there’s that notorious list of life goals that need to be checked off. With the Barroso Commission departing in October 2014 and the European Parliament elections looming in May 2014, Europe will have to start prioritising its own bucket list: the 2013 Commission Work Programme.
It’s a legacy year and there’s clearly a lot on the EU’s plate, ranging from shadow banking to shale gas, and although the Commission and Parliament would like to see every dossier wrapped up before departing next year, choices will have to be made. Certain dossiers will be hastened whilst others may be delayed; both will leave many dissatisfied. Other items on the political agenda will be more fortunate. One dossier, which headlines the bucket list and is certain to be ticked off in 2013 as part of ‘the legacy’, is air quality.
As you know from my previous posts (here and here), Europe dedicated 2013 the ‘Year of Air’ for a reason: 17 of the 27 EU Member States currently fail to meet air pollution standards. According to the European Environment Agency, exceeding legal limits reduces life expectancy of those living in the most polluted cities by approximately two (!) years (on average in Europe, 8.6 months). The on-going, comprehensive review of air policy (the Air Quality Framework Directive and its five daughter directives) looks to address human and environmental health and safety by way of stronger air quality laws addressing emissions at the source, and the Commission has received clear support from stakeholders to do so.
On 4 March, the public consultation on the air policy review closed and results, which are still to be officially published here, were presented at the 5th Stakeholder Expert Group on 3 April. According to speakers, including Thomas Verheye, Head of Unit for Industrial Emissions, Air Quality & Noise at DG Environment, consultation responses were “quite green” and showed that a clear majority of respondents, including the public, experts and national authorities, support:
- Tighter emission controls to ensure compliance with air quality standards;
- 2020 targets under the national emission ceilings directive beyond the Gothenburg Protocol;
- Binding air quality standards for fine particulates (PM2.5) for 2020;
- Closer alignment to World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance.
Of note, respondents also emphasised the need to address short-lived climate forcers, such as ozone.
As you remember, the public consultation, together with the REVIHAAP and HRAPIE reports, will feed into the review – this makes the above input very relevant and very important in shaping the Commission’s upcoming air quality proposal. The proposal is very likely, especially following the widespread support voiced in the consultation, to set much stricter standards for both anthropogenic and natural sources of air pollution. With the Commission, as highlighted by Environment Commissioner Potočnik, being absolutely “committed” to the cause, and given other recent setbacks, you can bet your bottom dollar that they’ll be looking to strike off air quality from that bucket list with vengeance.
Expect further updates as we move closer to the publication date: September 2013.
April 19, 2013
As you might have gathered from the title, I was inspired by recent US elections. Obama’s re-election marks the third president in a row to have won a second term; the last not to? George H. W. Bush in 1992 when Bill Clinton’s campaign famously highlighted, “It’s the economy, stupid.” By not grasping the importance the economy played in the minds of the electorate, Bush Sr. ended up losing big time. In Europe, the same might be the case for many if they don’t pay attention in 2013: Europe’s ‘Year of Air’.
Announced in 2011 by Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, 2013 will be the ‘Year of Air’. No, this isn’t a slight remark about the 2013 Commission Work Programme despite its “Eurolite” agenda (for more on this, click here); the EU will undertake a comprehensive review of air policy in 2013. The idea is that following an assessment of implementation and achievements of the Air Quality Framework Directive and its five daughters, including the 2008 Air Quality Directive, the EU will push for stronger air quality laws which address emissions at the source.
Air? But that’s Europe’s ‘Success Story’!
But why, you ask? Simple. Air pollution is bad for our health and the environment, and a significant proportion of Europeans still live in areas (especially cities) where exceedances of air quality standards occur (just look at the map below). Though emissions of the main air pollutants in Europe have declined between 2001 and 2010 [emissions of all particulate matter decreased by 14% in the EU, and ozone precursor gases (nitrogen oxides (NOX), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC) and carbon monoxide (CO)) decreased by an average of 28%], many European countries still do not comply with EU emissions agreements and especially not those set by the significantly more stringent World Health Organisation. The consequences of this disproportionate exposure which are driving the review? Health problems, resulting in a reduction of EU life expectancy by more than eight months, and environmental issues, including acidification, eutrophication and climate forcing.
Where’s the problem?
Interestingly, the sources of air pollution which the EU’s review will have to address are not all anthropogenic, or manmade. According to a recent report by the European Environment Agency, when finger-pointing at the bogeyman we should not only wave our index finger at the usual suspects but at Mother Nature as well. The main sources of air pollutants, in addition to agricultural and industrial activity, power generation and transport (including diesel vehicles), are mineral salts from sea spray, naturally suspended particulates (sand, pollen, ash, etc.) and soil dust. Sea spray mineral salts even amounts to 70% (!) or more of particulate matter (PM10), one of the most problematic pollutants in terms of human health.
What to expect?
As you can gather, the review will be both comprehensive and resolute; dedicating 2013 to air only raises political and citizen awareness about the need to revamp air policy, adding to the pressure of delivering in the final full year for both the Commission and Parliament. Any legislative proposal, however, will have to go through co-decision, and thus the Institutional urge for a legacy will face an uphill struggle against Member States already failing to implement current rules. What can be said already is that no matter where you’d like the cards to fall, the air quality review should be taken seriously. If you don’t, Bloomberg Businessweek next November might headline, “It was air quality, stupid.”
- A new public consultation will be made available online before the end of 2012.
- The proposal will be drafted early next year, with a new legislative proposal to be published late 2013.
For more on the EU’s Air policy review, click here.
November 13, 2012
Fleishman-Hillard Brussels was particularly enthusiastic to welcome Li Hong, President of Fleishman-Hillard China, as he visited the capital of Europe last week. While almost 8000 kilometres separate Brussels from Beijing, the upcoming leadership transition in China is poised to have a dramatic impact on the economy here in Europe, as in the rest of the world. His visit was thus the perfect occasion to discuss, with a handful of EU public affairs professionals from a broad range of industry sectors, the challenges the country is facing and the outlook for various industry sectors moving forward.
Trade policy is an exclusive power of the EU which means that it is the EU, and not individual member states, that legislates on trade matters and concludes international trade agreements, covering services, intellectual property and foreign direct investment. With the globalisation of the supply chain, China has become a major, if not the most important, production hub for multinational companies operating in Europe. Any shift in labour or environmental legislation taking place in China has an impact on foreign companies producing in China. Similarly, China is looking at the EU as a landmark for matters like the classification of chemicals substances or product safety legislation.
The fruitful discussions further confirmed the global dimension of EU public affairs. As influence operates from multiple pressure points and sources across different time zones, a silo approach to public affairs is no longer viable. Companies navigate in a globalised system with global challenges (trade, environment, food security, energy scarcity): what happens in China impacts the EU and vice versa.
In view of the current global economic slowdown, all eyes are expectantly turned on market prospects in China where a burgeoning economy and growing middle class still offer untapped opportunities for foreign players, from the pharmaceutical and retail sectors to logistics, automotives and chemicals.
On November 8th at the 18th Party Congress, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will see new faces in many of the top leadership posts. Given the importance of the Party’s leadership to the functioning of the world’s second-biggest economy, these major generational changes will strongly impact the margin of maneuver of foreign companies operating in China. It will also have a critical influence on the future of EU-China political and trade relations and therefore on public affairs in Brussels, Beijing and beyond.
Stay tuned for a comprehensive analysis of what the upcoming Chinese leadership change can bring to the industry, European consumers and EU policy makers.
October 23, 2012
Much to the chagrin of those who believe better regulation is less regulation, if there’s one thing that Brussels does well it’s churn out rules. The global economy may tank, the wheels may fall off the banking system but those who lunch on legislation are generally well fed in this town. None more so than the Committee where I spent some time as a young lad, the European Parliament’s prodigious Environment Committee (ENVI). According to that august body, ENVI accounted for around 20% of all co-decision files in both the 1999-2004 and the 2004-2009 legislatures, making it the largest legislative committee in Parliament in terms of legislative through put.
So a few weeks ago I was slightly worried when upon preparing for a Britcham event, I took a glance at the latest ITER listing for the Environment Committee. (For those of you who are not familiar, the ITER listing is a handy document that prevents you having to bother poor EP secretariat people with calls for information on what’s happening when in Committee quite so often.) At the time the legislative cupboard seemed pretty bare; own initiative reports (endocrine disruptors anyone?) on road maps, action plans and fitness checks but little in terms of legislation. I remarked upon this to an MEP from the Environment Committee in attendance at the event. He replied that this was one of the reasons he was spending time in his other committee, where there was a legislative debate that he could really sink his teeth into.
Fear not. With the end of this Parliament fast approaching – we’re about to enter its last full calendar year – and thoughts turning from arcane EU policy to the politics of getting re-elected, recent times have seen a replenishment of supplies. Yesterday saw the much talked about changes to the Fuel Quality Directive and Renewable Energy Directive to account for the alleged ill-effects of certain biofuels. While the latter was an ITRE competence the former was ENVI last time around. So expect a bun fight over competence this time. Other dossiers have in recent weeks begun to catch the attention. The Commission’s ETS backloading proposal with its desire to have both the legislative change and the comitology process done by the start of the third phase (1 January 2013) have already provoked debate inside the two legislative bodies. Of course the CO2 in cars dossier that’s just kicking off has its fair share of challenges both within the automotive sector as well as without. Not to mention the issue of f-gases, which is due from the Commission in the course of November, and already attracting media comment on leaked drafts and industry cries.
No doubt the rush to get proposals out to allow for agreement before the elections is playing its usual role in Commission thinking. Sadly it makes for a heady cocktail of increasing politicization and lack of time to think. (It’s worth noting peaks of co-decision files in the last year of each of the last two Parliaments in this document on this point.) My only question: is the result the equivalent of a legislative hangover? It felt like fun at the time, but later one feels the ill-effects. What we can be sure of is that debates shall be between those who advocate that such rules will spur ‘eco-innovation’ and ‘green growth’, while others shall complain that they’re only just getting used to the current rules and that all this regulatory uncertainty at a time of economic crisis is only likely to push those with Yuan/Yen/Rubles/Dollars to invest them elsewhere.
All this to say we won’t be going hungry for a while yet. However, this may well be the last sitting where there’s still good food on table. Previous sittings have fattened us up somewhat and one may expect that the Commission annual work programme, due 23rd October, and those that follow it to see environmental policy going on a diet. But that perhaps is the subject for another post.
October 18, 2012
The word “sustainability” can cover a multitude of interpretations, but when it comes to fisheries policy there is no ambiguity: today’s overfishing means tomorrow’s collapsing fish stocks. Until recently the Common Fisheries Policy has been a classic case of unsustainability, a stand-off between short term political pressures on the one hand and scientific evidence warning of the destruction of Europe’s fishery resources on the other. But at least change is in the air. Rio +20 may prove a real catalyst for reform.
NGOs have condemned the outcome of the Rio meeting for its lack of specific commitments, but I would subscribe to the view of businessGreen that the conference conclusions could have a far-reaching impact on the way that governments and business approach the whole sustainability question. On fisheries the commitments are substantial.
Of course words must now be translated into action, but there are signs of change in Europe. The EU fisheries council earlier this month set a course for a more sustainable fisheries policy. When the European Parliament discusses fisheries reform in September 2012, using the limited extra powers granted by the Lisbon Treaty, MEPs can be expected to maintain pressure on the Council for an enlightened policy to take effect from 2013. Rio will be an important incentive for change.
The June 12 Fisheries Council commitments are still pretty vague. They called for maximum sustainable yields for different stocks to be set “by 2015 where possible” and “by 2020 at the latest”. Multiannual plans for fisheries management would be used to manage specific stocks – bearing in mind that Lisbon introduced shared national-EU competence for such management. And the banning of discards, whereby fish caught beyond the quota limits are thrown back dead into the sea, would (eventually) be introduced.
According to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, a pioneer campaigner who has gathered nearly a million signatures against discards, about half of the fish caught in the North Sea is currently dumped at sea because it fails to meet by-catch rules or exceeds quota. His campaign has been remarkably effective in reinforcing the Commission’s ambitions for change in fisheries policy.
The language used in the Rio declaration (paragraphs 158-177) combines environmental and economic measures to protect oceans and seas. On fisheries it commits the parties “to urgently develop and implement science-based management plans, including by reducing or suspending fishing catch and effort commensurate with the status of the stock” and to “further commit to enhance action to manage by-catch, discards, and other adverse ecosystem impacts from fisheries including by eliminating destructive fishing practices”.
Fisheries policy will now take on a different aspect as accession negotiations with Iceland move into their most difficult phase. Ten of 18 chapters have now been negotiated, fisheries still remain. The prospect of a reformed CFP will be key for Iceland, which will surely settle for nothing less than a firm commitment to change. “A fishing nation like Iceland is something that the European Union hasn’t encountered before,” says Iceland foreign minister Ossur Skarphethinsson – a claim which the Norway might dispute. Indeed, fisheries and energy were the two issues which led the Norwegians to reject entry in the early ‘70s.
There are other issues where Iceland will no doubt want assurances. For example, a situation where quotas allocated to one EU country can be bought up by operators from elsewhere, as where Spanish vessels have registered in British ports and so qualified for British quota allocations, is of course consistent with freedom of establishment, but does little to respect an initial purpose of quotas, ensuring fishing opportunity to locally based fishermen. A greater emphasis on regional management may be the way ahead here.
June 24, 2012