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Document 52004AE0321

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘proposal for a Council Decision establishing Regional Advisory Councils under the Common Fisheries Policy’ (COM(2003) 607 final - 2003/0238 (CNS))

OJ C 110, 30.4.2004, p. 108–110 (ES, DA, DE, EL, EN, FR, IT, NL, PT, FI, SV)

30.4.2004   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 110/108


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘proposal for a Council Decision establishing Regional Advisory Councils under the Common Fisheries Policy’

(COM(2003) 607 final - 2003/0238 (CNS))

(2004/C 110/18)

On 16 December 2003 the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 37 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the above-mentioned proposal

On 27 January 2004, the Committee Bureau instructed the Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment to prepare this opinion.

In view of the urgency of the matter, at its 406th plenary session held on 25 and 26 February 2004 (meeting of 26 February 2004), the European Economic and Social Committee appointed Mr Manuel Chagas as rapporteur-general and adopted the following opinion by 76 votes to two.

1.   The Commission proposal

1.1

Council Regulation (EC) No. 2371/2002 provided for the establishment of Regional Advisory Councils (RAC) as a way of stepping up dialogue in the Community's fisheries sector by involving stakeholders more in the Common Fisheries Policy decision-making process.

1.2

The Commission's proposal aims to promote a consistent, balanced approach, laying down aspects common to all of the RACs to be set up, as regards their establishment, membership, structure, functioning and financing.

1.3

The Commission proposes setting up six RACs, covering five shipping areas – the Baltic Sea, Mediterranean Sea, North Sea, North Western waters and South Western waters - and the pelagic stocks.

1.4

RACs will be set up at the initiative of fishermen and other stakeholders who, to do so, will have to apply to the Member States concerned and the Commission. Each RAC will have a general assembly which will appoint an executive committee of between 12 and 18 members. In both bodies, two thirds of the members will represent the fisheries sector and the remainder will represent other interest groups affected by the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Observers such as scientists, representatives from Member States not covered by the RAC in question and those from third countries that have a fishing interest in the area, may also be invited to attend meetings, as may be representatives of the Advisory Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture (ACFA). Representatives of national administrations may also attend as observers.

1.5

The Commission will, moreover, secure initial start-up funding for RACs and their first three years of operation, in addition to covering the cost of interpreting at meetings and document translation.

2.   General comments

2.1

The EESC has constantly reiterated the need to involve the main stakeholders – ship owners and workers – in defining and implementing Community fisheries policies and the specific measures associated with this. Typically, businesses in the Community's fisheries sector are small and there is a little involvement in associations; it is therefore vital to ensure that stakeholders are involved in all stages of the decision-making process, so that (i) they grasp the need for the measures to be taken and (ii) these measures are better geared not only to the level of resources available, but also to the socio-economic circumstances of the communities concerned.

2.2

In its Green Paper on The Future of the Common Fisheries Policy (1), the Commission already acknowledged the importance of providing for new ways of involving stakeholders in the pre-decision phase of CFP policy-making. At that time, the Committee expressed its satisfaction at the Commission's intention ‘to involve interested parties more closely in the debate and to let the sector share the responsibility for decision-making and management at local level’. (2)

2.3

Likewise, in its opinion on the Commission Communication on the Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (‘Roadmap’) (3), the EESC expressed its support for the creation of the RACs, nonetheless pointing out the need to ensure that this move did not undermine the maintenance of a common fisheries policy by shifting discussions to regional level, which would distort the policy's key principles. It is therefore important that a representative of the ACFA may attend RAC meetings as an observer (Article 6(4)), and that each RAC must submit an annual report on its activities to the Commission, Member States and the ACFA (Article 10).

2.4

The need to ensure that RAC members are sufficiently representative of the various interests of each country concerned will necessarily require the involvement of a large number of organisations. However, the fact that it is the Member States who appoint the members of the general assemblies could lead to problems and disputes as to how representative the appointees actually are. Given that it has been proposed that the general assemblies meet once a year, provision should be made for as extensive participation as possible, involving all the recognised representative organisations with interests in the RAC in question.

2.5

The EESC supports the proposal in Article 5(2) that European and national organisations may propose members to the Member States concerned. It will nevertheless be necessary to ensure that both national and European organisations are informed quickly of any moves to set up an RAC. It would be worthwhile to involve the ACFA more in this process, in particular to call on European organisations to nominate their representatives and to centralise and manage the responses.

2.6

Given that it is up to the executive committee to manage the RAC's activities and adopt its recommendations and suggestions, the EESC does not feel that the Commission's proposal, as it stands, guarantees legitimate representation of all the parties concerned. In fact, by only requiring the participation of at least one representative of the catching sector from each Member State concerned, there is a risk that workers' representatives will be systematically left out.

2.6.1

Recently there have been a number of cases where trade union representatives have not been included amongst the representatives appointed by Member States to meetings on CFP issues. In advocating the involvement of those working in the sector, the EESC believes that ship owners and employed fishermen should also be included, since it is the latter who will really put into practice the measures adopted. The EESC thus recommends that the regulation explicitly set out the need to secure the participation of both ship owners and employed fishermen.

2.7

On the other hand, the share of the seats allocated to ‘other interest groups’ – one third of all the seats - also seems too large. Since there is no doubt that these groups' participation on the RACs must be secured due to the fact that their contribution will necessarily reflect different viewpoints, the RAC's opinions will essentially be the fruit of attempts to reconcile the different national interests at stake. It would be more appropriate for this group to be allocated a 20 % share of the seats on both the general assembly and the executive committee.

2.8

Although Article 32 of Regulation 2371/2002 stipulates that the RACs will ‘cover sea areas falling under the jurisdiction of at least two Member States’, the EESC suggests that consideration be given to setting up a seventh RAC which could, in view of the size of the Community fleet fishing in waters outside Community waters, bring together those parties involved in fishing in these areas, under an RAC entitled ‘External fishing regions’. Furthermore, the EESC considers it crucial that organisations representing ship owners and employed fishermen from the non-Member States concerned also be included in the RACs.

3.   Specific comments

3.1   Article 2 - Establishment of Regional Advisory Councils

3.1.1

As suggested above, an additional paragraph g) should be inserted to propose a seventh RAC, entitled ‘External fishing regions’.

3.2   Article 4 – Structure

3.2.1

The necessarily small number of members on the executive committee should restrict the powers of this body. In particular, the EESC feels that the recommendations and proposals made by the RAC should always go through the general assembly.

3.2.2

Unlike some of the other language versions, the Portuguese version sometimes refers to a regional assembly and sometimes to a general assembly. It seems that the latter is the correct term and the text should be amended accordingly.

3.3   Article 5 – Members

3.3.1

Appointment of RAC members should be coordinated by the ACFA in conjunction with its constituent European organisations.

3.3.2

The proportion of representatives from the fisheries sector should be reviewed along the lines set out in point 2.7 above.

3.3.3

Provision should be made to ensure that at least one employed fisherman from each Member State sits on the executive committee.

3.3.4

The Portuguese and the English versions (inter alia) of paragraph 2 read: ‘Members of the general assembly shall be appointed by common agreement between the Member States concerned.’ However the French version employs the term ‘by’ instead of ‘between’, which would seem more appropriate: ‘Les membres de l'assemblée générale sont nommés d'un commun accord par les États membres concernés.’ In fact there seems to be no grounds for the names put forward by one Member State to be decided on by other Member States.

3.4   Article 6 – Participation

3.4.1

Observers should be given the right to speak, although not the right to vote.

3.4.2

It should be optional as to whether the meetings should be open to the public; the decision on this should be up to the body in question.

3.5   Article 7 – Functioning

3.5.1

Although the EESC agrees that the chairperson should be designated by consensus, it feels that it is worth establishing that he or she should come from the catching sector.

3.6   Article 9 – Financing

3.6.1

It is not clear how a trans-national body such as an RAC could fit into the mould of a legal personality. The Commission will have to clarify this concept.

3.6.2

The EESC supports the Commission's intention to help finance interpreting and translation costs through annual ‘agreements’. Indeed, it is only by ensuring that all participants can speak in their own language and that all documents are translated into the languages used in good time, that the RAC's members will be able to participate on an equal footing with one another.

4.   Conclusions

4.1

The EESC notes the Commission's present proposal which aims to promote a consistent, balanced approach, laying down aspects common to all of the RACs to be set up, as regards their establishment, membership, structure, functioning and financing.

4.2

The EESC nonetheless feels that the proposal does not ensure adequate representation on the RACs of the main operators in the Community catching sector, namely ship owners and employed fishermen. This could be achieved by stepping up involvement of the ACFA and the European organisations represented therein, when RAC members are appointed.

4.3

The EESC also considers the relative size of the representation allocated to ‘other interest groups’ to be inappropriate, and proposes that this be brought down to 20 % of the total number of seats.

4.4

It also recommends that an RAC entitled ‘External fishing regions’ be set up, bringing together those parties involved in fishing in non-Community waters; this concerns a large part of the EU's fishing fleet.

Brussels, 26 February 2004

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Roger BRIESCH


(1)  COM(2001) 135

(2)  EESC 1315/01 - OJ C 36 of 8.2.2002.

(3)  EESC 1369/02 - OJ C 85 of 8.4.2003.


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