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Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — Strategic Guidelines for the sustainable development of EU aquaculture’ COM(2013) 229 final

OJ C 67, 6.3.2014, p. 150–152 (BG, ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, HR, IT, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, SK, SL, FI, SV)

6.3.2014   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 67/150


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — Strategic Guidelines for the sustainable development of EU aquaculture’

COM(2013) 229 final

2014/C 67/30

Rapporteur: José María ESPUNY MOYANO

On 29 April 2013 the European Commission decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 304 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, on the

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — Strategic Guidelines for the sustainable development of EU aquaculture

COM(2013) 229 final.

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 1 October 2013.

At its 493rd plenary session, held on 16 and 17 October 2013 (meeting of 16 October), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 122 votes to 3 with 6 abstentions.

1.   Conclusions

1.1

The EESC believes that aquaculture in the EU can and should contribute effectively to reducing Europe's increasing dependence on imports of aquatic products.

1.2

The EESC recommends that the European Commission and the Member States promote far-reaching measures to restore the competitiveness of European aquaculture businesses.

1.3

The Committee considers that the times currently taken to grant administrative authorisation to aquaculture farms are unacceptable: in many Member States, the process can take more than two or three years. For the sustainability of European aquaculture, the EESC considers it crucial to streamline administrative procedures and reduce their cost.

1.4

It is estimated that each percentage point of increase in the consumption of aquatic products produced internally through EU aquaculture would create between 3,000 and 4,000 full-time jobs. The Committee views this as particularly significant because those jobs would be skilled and, furthermore, they would be created in places offering very few alternative sources of employment.

1.5

The EESC is concerned about inadequate implementation of labelling rules for aquatic products, particularly non-prepackaged products, with information for consumers at the point of sale, from the point of view not just of fraud but also of unfair competition vis-à-vis European producers. The Committee therefore calls on the Commission and the Member States to include in their strategic plans effective measures to rectify this persistent shortcoming.

1.6

The EESC endorses the mounting of communication campaigns to inform European consumers about the high standards of production and quality of aquaculture practised in the European Union. It should be possible to finance such campaigns through the future European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).

1.7

The EESC once again strongly recommends stepping up import checks on aquatic products entering the European Union in order to ensure that they are completely traceable and in compliance with standards.

1.8

It is a priority in the EESC's view for the funding of R+D+i projects in aquaculture to be strengthened and for both the Member States and the Commission to gear their aquaculture research and innovation investment plans and programmes towards achieving the objectives set out in the vision document for the European Aquaculture Technology and Innovation Platform (EATIP), published in 2012.

1.9

Economic diversification of aquaculture (e.g. providing services for tourism) should be promoted and facilitated as an opportunity for aquaculture producers, both inland and coastal, particularly SMEs.

1.10

The EESC stresses the importance of recognising the European nature of the Aquaculture Advisory Council (AAC), by contrast with the regional scope of other advisory councils. To this end, it believes that the bodies participating in it (which must be related directly to aquaculture) must be European, or at least supranational, in scale. This should be reflected in its structure and financing.

1.11

The Committee notes that, in view of the multidisciplinary nature of aquaculture, the Commission must ensure that the AAC maintains direct and priority relations with its various Directorates-General.

1.12

Given that the first tasks entrusted in the European Commission's Strategic Guidelines to the AAC must be carried out in early 2014, the EESC urges the Commission and the Member States to ensure that it is set up and starts operating without delay.

2.   Background

2.1

The ongoing reform of the Common Fisheries Policy gives a key role to aquaculture and makes it a priority to promote this sector.

2.2

In its proposal for the Common Fisheries Policy, the European Commission recommends introducing an open coordination method for aquaculture with the Member States. This system would involve a voluntary process of cooperation based on strategic guidelines and multiannual national strategic plans, in compliance with the subsidiarity principle.

3.   Gist of the Commission proposal

3.1

The Strategic Guidelines for the sustainable development of EU aquaculture were published by the European Commission on 29 April 2013 (COM(2013) 229 final). The guidelines are non-binding, but they will form the basis for the multiannual national strategic plans. They are intended to assist the Member States in defining their own national targets, taking account of their relative starting positions, national circumstances and institutional arrangements.

3.2

The strategic guidelines cover four priority areas:

administrative procedures,

coordinated spatial planning,

competitiveness, and

creating a level playing-field.

3.3

The multiannual national strategic plans, which each Member State with aquaculture interests must draw up, should set common objectives and indicators for measuring progress made. These strategic plans are to be presented by the Member States to the Commission by the end of 2013.

3.4

The multiannual national strategic plans should serve to promote competitiveness in the aquaculture sector, support its development and innovation, stimulate business activity, promote diversification, and improve quality of life in coastal and rural regions, as well as ensuring a level playing-field for aquaculture operators in terms of access to waters and land.

3.5

The proposed revision of the Common Fisheries Policy includes the setting-up of an Aquaculture Advisory Council which will be responsible for presenting recommendations and suggestions to the European institutions on issues relating to the management of aquaculture, as well as informing them about problems in the sector.

4.   General comments

4.1

Some 13,2 million tonnes of aquatic products are consumed annually on the EU market, of which 65 % are imported, 25 % come from EU commercial fishing, and only 10 % from European aquaculture. The Committee shares the view that this imbalance is unsustainable, both in economic terms because of the trade deficit it entails, and socially because of the job opportunities forgone.

4.2

The EESC welcomes the Commission's view that each percentage point of increase in the consumption of aquatic products produced internally through EU aquaculture would create between 3,000 and 4,000 full-time jobs.

4.3

The EESC therefore agrees with the position of the Council, Parliament and European Commission that aquaculture must be one of the pillars of the EU's Blue Growth strategy and that its development can contribute to the Europe 2020 strategy. Aquaculture has the potential to boost growth and create jobs in coastal and river areas of the European Union where there are few alternative economic activities.

4.4

Demand for aquatic products is steadily increasing among consumers in Europe. European aquaculture offers consumers high-quality products, in compliance with the strictest environmental sustainability, animal health and consumer protection standards. The EESC believes that the supply of safe, healthy and sustainable food in the European Union should be considered a key challenge for the next few decades.

4.5

Despite these manifest advantages, aquaculture production in the European Union has stagnated since the year 2000. At the same time, aquaculture has registered strong growth in other parts of the world, which export a share of their products to the EU.

4.6

The EESC recognises that EU standards on public health, consumer protection and the environment form part of the fundamental values of the European Union. However, this legislation has considerable implications for the costs of European aquaculture producers, and these extra costs are rarely passed on in the prices of products which are obliged to compete on the market with imports that are not subject to the same requirements.

4.7

The EESC considers the Commission's proposal for re-establishing conditions of fair competition between EU operators and those of third countries to be wholly inadequate. Relying solely on measures to certify the safety and sustainability of EU aquaculture products and inform the general public of this standard is clearly an unsatisfactory way of restoring a level playing-field: public authorities should also demand the same safety guarantees of imports as are required of European products, with full 'sea-to-table" traceability.

4.8

The EESC considers that the imbalance on the European Union market between the production conditions for aquaculture in Europe and production conditions in third countries, which then export their goods to the EU, is much more than a simple issue of consumer information and decision. Other aspects have to be taken into account, such as the reduction in unnecessary red tape, access to space or the deficiencies of traceability systems.

4.9

In practice, the mandatory information that should always be available to consumers at the point of sale is often incomplete or unclear, which can result for example in fresh European products being replaced by defrosted imported ones without the buyer realising. This situation limits the ability of consumers to make responsible purchases, and also represents unfair competition vis-à-vis EU producers.

5.   Specific comments

5.1

The EESC agrees with the Commission that close cooperation between aquaculture and the processing industry for aquatic products can further improve job creation and competitiveness in both sectors.

5.2

The EESC shares the Commission's view about the need to improve the information available on administrative procedures in terms of time and costs in relation to issuing licences for new aquaculture farms in the Member States.

5.3

The EESC agrees with the Commission that implementing spatial plans can help to reduce uncertainty, facilitate investment, speed up business development and encourage job creation in the aquaculture sector.

5.4

The EESC feels that inland aquaculture is not given enough attention in the Commission's communication, particularly in relation to spatial plans.

5.4.1

The Committee suggests that the Commission expand the scope of the best practice exchange seminar scheduled for summer 2014 to include the implementation of coordinated river planning (in addition to maritime planning), so as to help the Member States in this area.

5.5

The EESC recognises the importance of proper planning and control of aquaculture production in order to prevent undesirable effects on the environment. By the same token, it realises that sectoral management of aquaculture must follow an ecosystem-based approach.

5.6

The Committee knows how important it is for the development of aquaculture to be strongly research- and science-based.

5.7

Like the Commission, we are conscious of the environmental services provided by extensive pond-based aquaculture, which is an example of an economic activity that is compatible with the need to conserve habitats or species.

5.8

The Commission's idea of providing guidelines to help national and regional authorities implement EU legislation (e.g. on the environment) more effectively and consistently is in the EESC's view appropriate.

5.9

The EESC welcomes the role of the Aquaculture Advisory Council and believes that this body can help in achieving the objectives of the national strategic plans and check whether they are properly implemented. However, we would point out that this body is different in nature from other advisory councils, firstly because its sphere of activity concerns a private resource belonging to aquaculture businesses - in contrast to fishing, where stocks are a public natural resource - and secondly because its scope is not regional but EU-wide.

Brussels, 16 October 2013.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Henri MALOSSE


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