While all parties to the World Trade Organization (WTO) are currently seeking to agree on a multilateral ban on harmful fisheries subsidies that encourage fleet overcapacity and overfishing, on October 15th the European Fisheries Ministers took a step in the opposite direction: during a session of the Council they confirmed the reintroduction of harmful fisheries subsidies (which were banned in Europe in 2004) as part of their position on the next European Marine and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).

Every six years, European institutions revise their ‘Multiannual Financial Framework’, the overall budget allocated to the different European policies. Amongst those policies, the EMFF is the fund that allocates public subsidies to fisheries, aquaculture and the protection of the marine environment. The next EMFF for the period 2021-2027 will have a budget of more than 6 billion euros and will therefore be a key instrument to determinate the future of European fishers and the Ocean.

In June 2018 the European Commission published its proposal for the next European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. Although this proposal is far from perfect, it represents a step in the right direction to transition to fisheries with low environmental impact and high social value. It is also leaning towards the commitment made by the EU to respect the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular to prohibit harmful fisheries subsidies that encourage overcapacity and overfishing by 2020 as mandated by SDG 14.6.

But in April 2019, the previous Parliament jeopardized the progress made by the European Commission when they added disastrous amendments aiming to reintroduce harmful subsidies allowing vessels construction and modernization of the fleet, which will mechanically increase fishing capacity. Those former subsidies were banned by European institutions in 2004 to reverse overcapacity and overfishing, given the dramatic state of EU fish stocks. Since then, progresses have been made but still 41% and 87% of European fish stocks in the Northeast Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea, respectively, are overexploited.

Then in June 2019, the Council of the EU adopted its first position on the next EMFF and went even further than Parliament. Amongst other things, they weakened the conditions for eligibility to harmful subsidies, and while only small-scale vessels of less than 12 meters (86% of the EU fleet) could benefit from certain public funds under the Commission’s proposal, all vessels of up to 24 meters (97% of the EU fleet) can now qualify. On Tuesday 15 October, they had a chance to change their position, as European Fisheries Ministers met in a new session of the Council to complete and approve their final approach on the next EMFF. They chose instead to keep their position on harmful subsidies, which betrays the European Union commitment to comply with the SDGs.

On 12 November 2019, the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament will vote on whether to start Trilogue negotiations on the basis of the position adopted by the former Parliament. Trilogue negotiations happen behind closed doors and are based on the official approaches of each one of the three institutions involved (European Commission, European Parliament and the Council of the European Union).

If Trilogue negotiations were to be initiated on the basis of these appalling positions, it would be a slippery slope. Adopting the current amendments proposed by both the European Parliament and Council for the next EMFF would indeed dramatically compromise the ongoing WTO negotiations to reach an international agreement to ban harmful subsidies globally by 2020. The clock is ticking and the European Union is not delivering.



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