A Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) was first formulated in the Treaty of Rome. Initially linked to the Common Agricultural Policy, over time it has gradually become more independent. The primary goal of the CFP, as revised in 2002, is to ensure sustainable fisheries and guarantee incomes and stable jobs for fishermen. Several changes to the fisheries policy were introduced in the Treaty of Lisbon. In 2013 the Council and Parliament reached agreement on a new CFP, for the long-term environmental, economic, and social sustainability of fishing and aquaculture activities.
Articles 38-43 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).
The TFEU introduced some innovations regarding the involvement of Parliament in the drafting of legislation concerning the CFP. The most important change is that legislation necessary for the pursuit of the objectives of the CFP is now adopted under the ordinary legislative procedure (formerly known as the codecision procedure), making Parliament co-legislator. However, the provisions on legislation on ‘measures on fixing prices, levies, aid and quantitative limitations and on the fixing and allocation of fishing opportunities’ (Article 43(3) TFEU) remain as they were in the Treaty establishing the European Community (EC Treaty), meaning that such legislation can only be adopted by the Council on proposals from the Commission.
With regard to the ratification of international fisheries agreements, the Lisbon Treaty stipulates that they are to be ratified by the Council after Parliament has given its consent.
Fisheries are a natural, renewable, movable and common property that is part of our common heritage. The Treaty of Rome made provisions for a Common Fisheries Policy, and now Article 39(1) TFEU sets out the objectives for the Common Agricultural Policy, which are shared by the Common Fisheries Policy, since Article 38 defines agricultural products as ‘the products of the soil, of stock-farming and of fisheries and products of first-stage processing directly related to these products’. Fisheries are a common policy, meaning that common rules are adopted at EU level and applied in all Member States. The original objectives of the CFP were to preserve fish stocks, protect the marine environment, ensure the economic viability of European fleets and provide consumers with quality food. The 2002 reform added to these objectives the sustainable use of living aquatic resources, in a balanced manner and from an environmental, economic and social point of view, specifying that sustainability must be based on sound scientific advice and on the precautionary principle. The new CFP basic rules came into force on 1 January 2003.
The Common Fisheries Policy originally formed part of the Common Agricultural Policy, but it gradually developed a separate identity as the Community evolved, starting in 1970, with the adoption by Member States of exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and the entry of new Member States with substantial fishing fleets. These developments meant that the Community had to tackle specific fisheries problems, such as access to common resources, the conservation of stocks, structural measures for the fisheries fleet and international relations in fisheries.
It was not until 1970 that the Council adopted legislation to establish a common organisation of the market for fisheries products and put in place a Community structural policy for fisheries.
Fisheries played a significant role in the negotiations leading to the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark joining the EEC in 1972. This resulted in a move away from the fundamental principle of freedom of access: national rights to exclusive coastal fishing in territorial waters, defined as lying within 12 nautical miles of the coast, were extended to include EEZs reaching up to 200 nautical miles from the coast. The Member States agreed to leave the management of their fisheries resources in the hands of the European Community.
In 1983, after several years of negotiations, the Council adopted Regulation (EEC) No 170/83, establishing the new-generation CFP which enshrined a commitment to EEZs, formulated the concept of relative stability and provided for conservatory management measures based on total allowable catches (TACs) and quotas. Since 1983, the CFP has had to adapt to the withdrawal of Greenland from the Community in 1985, the accession of Spain and Portugal in 1986 and the reunification of Germany in 1990. These three events have had an impact on the size and structure of the Community fleet and on its catch potential.
In 1992 Regulation (EEC) No 3760/92, containing the provisions that governed fisheries policy until 2002, endeavoured to remedy the serious imbalance between fleet capacity and catch potential. The remedy it advocated was to reduce the Community fleet and alleviate the social impact by means of structural measures. The regulation introduced the concept of ‘fishing effort’ with a view to restoring and maintaining the balance between available resources and fishing activities. The regulation provided for access to resources through an effective licensing system.
The measures introduced in Regulation (EEC) No 3760/92 were not sufficiently effective to halt overfishing, and the depletion of many fish stocks continued at an even faster rate. The critical situation led to a reform consisting of three regulations that were adopted by the Council in December 2002 and entered into force on 1 January 2003:
The primary objective of the 2002 reform was to ensure a sustainable future for the fisheries sector by guaranteeing stable incomes and jobs for fishermen and supplying consumers, while preserving the fragile balance of marine ecosystems. It introduced a long-term approach to fisheries management, including the preparation of emergency measures, involving multiannual recovery plans for stocks outside safe biological limits and multiannual management plans for other stocks.
In order to avoid aggravating the imbalance between the overcapacity of the fleet and the actual fishing possibilities, since 2005 aid has exclusively been used to improve safety and working conditions on board and product quality, to switch to more selective fishing techniques, or to equip vessels with satellite vessel monitoring systems (VMSs).
Socio-economic measures were also introduced to support the industry during the transition period. To ensure more effective, transparent and fair controls, the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA) was established in Vigo (Spain).
The 2002 reform gave fishermen a greater say in decisions affecting them through the creation of Regional Advisory Councils (RACs), consisting of fishermen, scientific experts, representatives of other sectors related to fisheries and aquaculture, regional and national authorities, environmental groups and consumers.
The 2002 reform did not live up to expectations in the short term as the deterioration of some stocks continued to increase. At the same time, it highlighted some problems that had remained unnoticed until then, such as that of discards.
In 2009 the Commission launched a public consultation on the reform of the CFP with the aim of integrating the new principles that should govern EU fisheries in the 21st century. After a long debate in the Council and — for the first time — in Parliament, agreement was reached on 1 May 2013 on a new fisheries regime based on three main pillars:
The new CFP is meant to ensure that the activities of the fishing and aquaculture sectors are environmentally sustainable in the long term and are managed in a way that is consistent with the objectives of achieving economic, social and employment benefits. The most important points are:
The common organisation of the markets in fishery and aquaculture products has been part of the reform package. It aims to strengthen the competitiveness of the EU fishing industry and to improve transparency in the markets by means of a modernisation and simplification of the current regulation. The producer organisations will play a major role in the future of the EU markets, especially in collective management, monitoring and control.
There will also be new marketing standards for labelling, quality and traceability that will give consumers more information about the sustainability of their choices when purchasing fisheries products.
The new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund will serve as a financial tool to help implement the CFP and the common organisation of the market in fishery and aquaculture products.
The Lisbon Treaty has given the European Parliament greater power to legislate, allowing it the opportunity to help shape the Common Fisheries Policy and to supervise the rules that govern the activities of the EU’s fisheries and aquaculture sectors.