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Simplifying and improving the CFP: looking ahead

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Simplifying and improving the CFP: looking ahead

In this Communication, the Commission presents its views on simplifying and improving regulation of the common fisheries policy. It looks into the causes of the current complexity, sets goals, identifies areas for progress, points out the risks to be expected and calls for an action plan.


Communication from the Commission of 15 December 2004 "Perspectives for simplifying and improving the regulatory environment of the common fisheries policy" [COM(2004) 820 final - not published in the Official Journal].


Steps have already been taken to simplify regulation of the common fisheries policy (CFP) (repeals, declaration of obsolescence, screening) in the reform adopted in 2002 and the new European Fisheries Fund. Efforts do not end there, however. To increase efficiency, the Commission proposes to:

  • improve clarity and accessibility of existing legislation;
  • reduce costs and constraints for public administrations by reducing the number and lowering the complexity of reports to be submitted to the Commission's Directorate-General for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs;
  • alleviate the administrative constraints for fishermen, in particular the logbook, which is sometimes ill-suited to certain fisheries.

Differences between Member States concerning implementation of enforcement measures, the combined implementation of different resource management tools and, in some cases, the existence of different layers of measures all generate complexity. These issues need to be tackled urgently.

Structural reasons for the complexity

However, certain reasons for such complexity cannot be avoided:

  • ease of reading for the layman is difficult to reconcile with the wishes of the expert;
  • the CFP covers a varied group of activities and fisheries;
  • where certain stocks are in danger of being depleted, it is necessary introduce complementary protection measures. Moreover, a less regulatory approach makes fair and efficient enforcement difficult;
  • the Community is not alone in deciding the rules on external resources;
  • the rules have to keep pace with continuously changing biological conditions and other circumstances;
  • given the rapid changes in biological conditions, translating scientific findings into fisheries management rules is a difficult task.

State of play

The current situation is the result of the specific background to fisheries and the step-by-step reinforcement of the regulatory environment between 1983 and 2002. The resulting complexity is exacerbated by the decision-making process:

  • Council and Parliament negotiations often result in a more complex final document than the original proposal;
  • several key policy areas have had to be reviewed repeatedly as adopted measures proved inadequate;
  • discussions on the various CFP chapters have often been held in isolation;
  • the time available between the annual setting of total allowable catches (TACs) and quotas and their entry into force has made it difficult to hold prior consultations;
  • measures have been placed at a higher legislative level than strictly necessary, which has made them harder to amend and simplify.

Areas for progress

Many fishermen feel that the rules are unduly complex and should be simplified. There are various ways to achieve this:

  • preliminary consultations should take into account minimum standards for consultations (sufficient time for consultation, obligation to publish the results, obligation to provide feedback in response to comments received and use of a single contact point). The establishment of regional advisory councils (RACs) would be a step in the right direction.
  • multiannual management strategies instead of annual ones would create more time to prepare documents and cut the workload associated with consulting scientific bodies;
  • integrated management strategies should include the various chapters of the CFP, which would ensure management does not appear to be a jumble of measures;
  • increased use of information technology would simplify the transfer of information from fishermen to the national administrations. At the same time, improving the presentation of the EUR-Lex web site would facilitate access to legislation.

More targeted measures are also needed:

  • the process of drawing up documents must be improved;
  • the number of hierarchical layers of complex legislation should be reduced;
  • certain rules could be transferred to lower-level documents;
  • the role of decisions taken at the national level and adding to Community rules should be clarified;
  • wherever possible, the aim must be to have a small number of summary documents. This would help maintain consistency between different texts and boost readability. At present it can sometimes be hard to ascertain an overall structure to the body of documents, references and supplementary texts.

In addition to these improvements, the regional advisory councils could develop information booklets for specific target groups. These should target fishermen operating in a particular area and explain only those rules that are relevant to them, giving links to the relevant legal documents.

Regular feedback must be sent to national administrations. Data flows to fishermen must also be improved, for example by promoting scientists' use of their data. This could dispel the feeling that the data are under-used. Information technology could be used to counter the perception prevalent among fishermen that they have to send superfluous data via various channels.

The harmonisation of Member States' enforcement measures demanded by fishermen could be achieved via regulations. There is scope for benchmarking, which in addition to other benefits would aid the work of the European Fisheries Control Agency.

Applying the principle of proportionality to the cost of enforcement measures could improve the cost-effectiveness of the CFP.

External fisheries resources have specific problems.

  • One idea is to define a medium-term strategy according to the type of agreement, region or fishery to ensure consistency. However, each party to multilateral or bilateral negotiations may obviously adopt its own position, which the European Union cannot change.
  • Upholding homogenous principles in the regional fisheries organisations will help achieve the defined goals. Another idea is to simplify procedures for transposing the Community's obligations as a contracting or cooperating partner into Community legislation.
  • The Commission is suggesting gradually building up standard legislative frameworks and improving negotiation procedures in relation to partnership agreements.

Anticipated risks and problems

The first risk is that of being unrealistic about the scope for simplification and underestimating the effort involved. The specifics of the CFP warrant a degree of caution to avoid a weakening of existing fisheries management.

The EU institutions must also make sure that the objective of simplification does not drop off the priority list. The work needs to be spread out over time.

Other risks are associated with the tools. Information technology can cause problems for non-expert users and some measures might be disproportionate for smaller vessels.

Immediate follow-up

The Communication calls for an action plan, which should:

  • be part of a wider effort to simplify EU law and be rooted in the interinstitutional agreement of December 2003;
  • contain measures for the short, medium and long term;
  • be based on a consultation of fishermen, Member States and other stakeholders to identify priorities and methods to pursue them (the regional advisory councils and the Advisory Committee for Fisheries and Aquaculture have important roles to play in this regard);
  • present an analysis of the obstacles, the risks to its success and the human resources needed for each measure;
  • specify the role of all those involved and the timescale for every measure.


This Communication is a follow-up to the framework action for "Updating and simplifying the Community acquis" adopted in February 2003. It explores to what extent the common fisheries policy could benefit from simplification.


Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions of 11 February 2003 - "Updating and simplifying the Community acquis" [COM(2003) 71 final - Not published in the Official Journal]

Communication from the Commission of 5 June 2002 - "Simplifying and improving the regulatory environment" [COM(2002) 278 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

Last updated: 22.06.2007