February 7, 2011
There is an issue that encapsulates the struggle for a new Europe. It combines issues of environmentalism and biodiversity, and seeks to replace the present institutional failure with a new paradigm, where centralism is replaced by regionalism, with greater elasticity, while simultaneously slashing the subsidies that are currently supporting counter-productive and unpopular policies.
The new approach is seen as crucial to the incorporation of new states within the EU. Added to this, a policy review is legally required in 2012, and there is support for the new proposals from the European Parliament and several leading member states. This should be highly newsworthy.
The issue is fisheries, and the new paradigm is regionalism. The Common Fisheries Policy is a by-word for failure: stock management has been poor, leading to the rapid depletion of fish stocks, which may now be irreversible; the quota system has required fishermen to dump at sea – “discard” – as many fish as they actually land; huge subsidies have been applied, ostensibly to pay for reduction of overcapacity.
However, it has been reported that these have been misapplied to increase trawler capacity in some states, benefiting a few individuals disproportionately.
The new approach comes from the Nordic states – particularly Norway and Iceland, which currently are not within the CFP – seeking to cooperate on the basis of extending their policies that already work, where there are no discards, and with area-based management plans that protect ecosystems.
Regionalism, in this context, seems to mean recognising that sometimes it just is not possible to reach agreement between all nations, and perhaps it is not wise to try – sometimes there are genuinely conflicting needs, and there needs to be flexibility for different approaches, according to different circumstances.
This introduces a broader set of issues that go beyond fisheries and touch every aspect of the European Union. The European Union has become focused around not only central policymaking, but centralised planning, with Soviet-style quotas and detailed standardisation and conformity. Was this ever necessary or desirable? Was this ever appropriate to such a wide diversity of different climates, societies, needs and priorities? Different approaches are often needed for different areas with different circumstances, even within a single nation.
Fisheries seems set to become the test of whether Europe can become more flexible and less all-controlling. Can Europe find meaning in diversity?
EnglandAuthor : Letters to the EurActiv editor