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Debates
Wednesday, 3 July 2002 - Strasbourg OJ edition

12. Common fisheries policy
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  President. – The next item is the joint debate on the following reports:

- A5-0176/2002, by Mr Busk, on behalf of the Committee on Fisheries, on the Commission report on the monitoring of the implementation of the common fisheries policy (COM(2001) 526 – C5-0008/2002 – 2002/2001(COS));

- A5-0228/2002, by Mrs Attwooll, on behalf of the Committee on Fisheries, on the Commission communication to the Council and the European Parliament on behaviour which seriously infringed the rules of the common fisheries policy in 2000 (COM(2001) 650 – C5-0197/2002 – 2002/2093(COS)).

 
  
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  Busk (ELDR), rapporteur.(DA) Mr President, Commissioner, the Commission has recently tabled a proposal for future reform of the fisheries policy and, in the light of this, the Commission’s report on monitoring the implementation of the common fisheries policy, which is the subject of my report, is a very important tool. We must draw upon all the experience garnered from the current fisheries policy so that the future fisheries policy can lead to some clear improvements. Such improvements are necessary, moreover, for there are far too many loopholes in the present fisheries policy. One of the most obvious examples is the MAGPs, which have neither permitted efficient monitoring of the number of fishing vessels, nor have secured either the necessary reduction in the fleet or efficient monitoring of the fleet’s real capacity. Certain Member States have neglected to comply with their obligations to inform the Commission of their vessels’ catches or have only provided such information on an occasional basis during the period covered by the Commission’s report.

There are, unfortunately, very big differences between one Member State and another in the way in which the conditions are fulfilled, as well as in the way in which the requirements for reporting catches to the Commission are complied with. That is because many Member States are quite simply too slipshod about fulfilling their obligations under the common fisheries policy. That also applies to the submission of data, the implementation of common decisions and the use of adequate resources to ensure full compliance with the common fisheries policy. In order to ensure the implementation of a common fisheries policy, it is, quite simply, necessary to demand that the monitoring and enforcement system and the system of reporting be employed correctly in every respect in all the Member States. It is also necessary for other reasons, particularly in order to obtain fishermen’s support and respect for the policies decided upon. Fishermen must also be left in no doubt that these policies are being implemented equally in all the Member States.

Responsibility for monitoring the application of Community legislation in accordance with Community principles naturally lies with the Member States. There is a lot to indicate that the Member States need rather more help in fulfilling this responsibility, and it is, in the last analysis, the Community which has overall responsibility for satisfactory implementation of the legislation. The Member States have established legal frameworks for control and have designated competent authorities within the traditions of their legal and administrative systems. Member States have also invested fisheries inspectors with legal powers of control and the power to initiate sanction procedures. Everything ought, in this way, really to be in order. The basis, in any case, is there as it should be, and the national authorities are in a position to enforce Community legislation. Unfortunately, we have to observe, on the basis of the Commission’s report, that there are far too many differences, and that naturally makes fishermen feel they are being treated unequally within the Community.

My eye has also been caught by the observation in the Commission’s report to the effect that the fisheries inspectors are not well enough trained. Simply reading between the lines, I gather there are some fisheries inspectors who do not even know the difference between a herring and a sprat. If I am right in thinking that this is the case, it is certainly something to be got to grips with, especially in view of the fact that the training of inspectors is partly funded by the EU. It is, therefore, quite simply unacceptable that the Commission has seen fit to observe that there is a blatant lack of training and experience in how to conduct basic checks on compliance with applicable common rules. It is high time that we got the Member States to give a higher priority to their obligations. It is a question of increasing the efficiency of the way in which responsibility is exercised at national level, so that monitoring, inspection and surveillance are not – as is the case, for example, in one particular country – divided between seven authorities, meaning that no one has real responsibility. There must be efficient follow-up of infringements, and adequate resources must be set aside to ensure that the monitoring and inspection functions are in order. I have proposed to the Commission that a system of rewards be devised, for example in the form of extra quotas, for those Member States that comply with Community legislation. I have also, of course, proposed that tougher sanctions be imposed upon those countries that do not comply with what is required. Commissioner, I am completely convinced that the key to success where our fisheries are concerned is in the area of control.

 
  
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  Attwooll (ELDR), rapporteur. – Mr President, there is something slightly surreal about rising this late at night to deal with infringements that took place more than two years ago and in circumstances where the Commission has already come forward with proposals for reform. The exercise is nonetheless worthwhile for there are three main causes for concern; two are about the communication, one is about the proposal.

The first is to do with delay. The Commission communication that should have arrived in June arrived in November. The equivalent communication for 2001 is already more than one month overdue. I hope that the Commission will be able to reassure the Committee on Fisheries that its appearance is imminent.

The second relates to content. Not all the Member States reported, as required, in electronic form and the appropriate codes were not always used. Some reports were incomplete or illegible. One Member State did not report at all last year, although I understand it has subsequently done so.

My own perusal suggests that Member States were not entirely consistent in the way they classified infringements. Some of the penalties appear to have been presented in aggregate form, making it difficult to identify the range imposed.

All of this is regrettable, since, as the Commission itself admits, it is impossible to draw clear, coherent conclusions. Informal contacts with the Commission suggest that there has been better reporting for 2001. The Committee on Fisheries hopes that they will afford a fuller and more developed analysis. For example, the number of offences reported by Member States can only be properly understood in the context of the size of fleets involved. I hope the Commissioner will not take it amiss if I suggest that one might expect considerably fewer offences to be reported from Austria than from some other Member States.

More generally, and even with much better data, a cautious approach must be adopted to interpretation. Does a higher percentage of offences reported mean that a higher percentage of offences has actually been committed or that there is simply a better detection rate? Similarly, should the fines imposed be comparable in absolute terms or only in the context of the cost of living within the Member States concerned? Properly interpreted though, the information could be invaluable as a basis for dealing with infringements during the reform of the CFP. There is sufficient evidence in the communication to show that a wide difference of penalties exists. For example, in the case of falsification or failure to record data in logbooks the average in Member States appears to range from EUR 88 to EUR 16 020.

The Committee on Fisheries welcomes the fact that the Commission has addressed the issue of harmonised penalties in chapter 5 of its proposals on the conservation and sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources.

This brings me, however, to the third point of concern: the wording does not fully address the points in our report. First, there is our call for the use of objective criteria in classifying and rating the types of behaviour and penalties concerned. In this regard, we would stress the potential usefulness, properly interpreted, of the kind of data to which this report refers.

Secondly, the report calls for a uniform system of minimum penalties whereas the proposal makes no mention of a minimum. Even in the case of a serious infringement, some types of activity may be more serious than others. It is not unreasonable to expect that a distinction be made between a first and a repeat offence or between cases where the behaviour was clearly deliberate and where a genuine mistake was made. What is important for justice is not that all cases are treated the same but rather that like cases are treated alike.

On these grounds and taking into account the whole doctrine of the separation of powers, it would seem unacceptable not to allow a measure of judicial administrative discretion in these respects.

With this caveat, I believe we can move a long way towards establishing a principle of equal treatment that, along with measures such as the establishment of regional advisory councils, will do much to create confidence in the common fisheries policy on the part of our fishing communities. We look forward to the Commissioner's detailed proposals in this regard. The Commissioner may be assured that we will scrutinise them well.

 
  
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  Miguélez Ramos (PSE).(ES) Mr President, the Group of the Party of European Socialists would like to congratulate Mrs Attwooll and Mr Busk on their very welcome reports, and also welcomes the two communications presented by the Commission, both concerning control.

We should also like to express – and I address this to Mr Fischler as well – our satisfaction with the progress that would be made in the area of inspection and control under the proposal for reform of the CFP adopted by the European Commission. In this regard, we fully agree with the Commission’s view that the current measures for control and compliance with standards have been insufficient to guarantee the establishment of equal conditions throughout the Union, meaning that the credibility of the CFP has been affected. We support the proposal to create a common inspection and control structure, as requested by the European Parliament. This will be a great step towards communitising the common fisheries policy, which we would also like to see reflected in other dimensions of this policy. It will also increase cooperation between national authorities, as demanded by the European Parliament, moving towards a common inspection structure at Community level and adopting uniform standards including on the amount of penalties. This will make it possible to attenuate the current deficiency caused by the lack of human and material resources, which are currently limited to the sporadic control of landings. In addition, there are substantial differences between the inspection methods of each Member State and between the penalties they apply, which leads to ineffective control.

We therefore asked, in the resolution on the Green Paper, a report for which I was the rapporteur, for a harmonised European inspection and control system applicable to all professionals, without discrimination, with a uniform system of penalty proceedings and provisions with a high level of compliance in each part of the industry. Without this system, all the efforts towards the conservation of stocks and the rational management of fishing-grounds are destined to fail.

The control cannot be effective, however, without cooperation between the Commission and the Member States and unless the latter fulfil their obligation, as Mrs Attwooll said, to notify any infringements that take place in this area. I would therefore ask the Commissioner to tell us, if possible, what action the Commission has taken in response to the non-compliances he describes in his communication with regard to Member States that have failed to comply with the requirements of Regulation (EC) No 2740/1999. I would also ask the Commissioner to tell us whether he has asked France for an explanation as to why it did not provide any information and what the response was.

As indicated by Mrs Attwooll, given these gaps it is impossible to come to a firm conclusion. Lastly, we support the petition by my colleague Mr Busk for the Commission to draw up a catalogue of penalties that could be more effective and dissuasive, based on the experiences of the various Member States, that could serve as a guide for everybody.

We are sure that an effective, impartial system of homogenous control at European level will increase the support of fishermen for legislation on fisheries and will also increase their respect for it.

 
  
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  McKenna (Verts/ALE). – Mr President, it is clear from the excellent Attwooll and Busk reports that the systems of control and surveillance in the European Union leave a lot to be desired. Very little has changed since I drew up my report on controls several years ago.

The application of the control regulation is extremely patchy across the Community, with some Member States applying parts of it well and other parts of it not so well. The level of fines and penalties varies widely across the Community, despite having a common list of serious infringements.

We desperately need an EU-wide coordination of control and surveillance. The credibility of the common fisheries policy is at stake in this area. In other words, the Commission must be given far wider powers in this domain, as we have been saying in this Parliament for many years. I therefore fully support the idea in the Commission's reform package to create an EU inspectorate and my group will be voting for both reports.

 
  
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  Souchet (NI).(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, as has been emphasised by our fellow Member Mr Niels Busk, rapporteur for the Committee on Fisheries on matters concerning the monitoring of the implementation of the common fisheries policy, it is essential that the rules of the policy should be perceived by fishermen to be just, equitable and proportionate if these rules are to be observed. As our rapporteur says, fishermen’s support and respect for fisheries regulations will improve if fishermen’s organisations are involved in the decision-making process.

This, Mr President, is a crucial point. If the professionals at the sharp end are not closely involved in the formulation of decisions, in the definition of measures to protect stocks and of technical provisions, if they sense that the common fisheries policy is unfair and is stacked against them, if they have the feeling that they are being condemned out of hand, the rules of the common fisheries policy will never be properly applied, and no repressive mechanism will ever alter that.

Alas, the way chosen by the Commission to launch the process of reforming the common fisheries policy has been the exact opposite of the cooperative effort that is needed to develop new rules. And yet the fishermen’s organisations played a very active and constructive part in the consultation process initiated by the Commission after the publication of its Green Paper. They thought that the reform of the common fisheries policy would offer an opportunity to restore confidence by breaking with the depressing tradition of dictated policies. They are all the more bitter to find themselves presented with reform plans that effectively ignore their suggestions. The Commission’s initial error, in other words, has been compounded by the wrong choice of method.

With regard to the measures to protect and regenerate stocks, instead of moving towards the procedures based on consensus and responsibility that fishermen want, the Commission seeks to drag us towards greater authoritarianism and centralisation, in spite of some spurious concessions, such as the regional advisory committees.

As far as the measures to regulate the fishing effort are concerned, these are brutal and arbitrary decisions that are being imposed, and their purpose is to scrap more and more vessels and to make more and more fishermen redundant. If such measures were adopted, there would be every reason to fear, Mr Busk, that monitoring the implementation of the common fisheries policy would be fraught with far more problems tomorrow than it is today. But there is still time, Commissioner, to think again and to listen to the messages that the fishing communities are addressing to you. As you well know, rather than arousing enthusiasm, your proposals have only stirred up revolt in our ports and along our coasts. If you are able to discern the import of this revolt, you will soon realise that our fishermen are more deeply committed to the practice of sustainable fishing than your armchair environmentalists.

 
  
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  Cunha (PPE-DE).(PT) Mr President, with growing signs of the depletion of many fish stocks, the common fisheries policy (CFP) has incorporated and progressively stepped up the component of stock protection and conservation. This is an issue of civic and political responsibility, because such measures are crucial to safeguarding the future of the fisheries sector itself and of fishermen, even though the measures might not be very popular in the short term. In order to ensure the effective implementation of this important aspect of the CFP, we have for a long time had a set of Community control, inspection and surveillance mechanisms, compliance with which depends, basically, on the Member States.

What the Commission has now presented is an evaluation report on the way in which these mechanisms are implemented in the various Member States. This report shows that profound inequalities exist in the interpretation and implementation of these measures, specifically: in inspection and surveillance equipment, in the training of inspectors, in the frequency of inspections and in sanction procedures. Mrs Attwooll’s report also focuses on some of these very problems.

This being the case, it is obvious that such disparities are creating genuinely unequal treatment of fishermen in the various Member States. These inequalities also lead, ultimately, to a distortion of competition. This is what has happened, for example, with the famous Multiannual Guidance Plans for Fisheries – the MAGPs – under which the Member States failing to meet the established objectives have not had any sanctions imposed on them and it is ultimately those who have broken the rules who have become the beneficiaries.

What the Commission is now suggesting in this report is the need substantially to strengthen the mechanisms for the control and surveillance of fisheries, including the possibility of the Commission’s corps of inspectors’ being able to act independently of national authorities. We agree with this proposal, and this debate must now be incorporated into the debate on the CFP following 2002.

To conclude, I simply wish to thank Niels Busk for his support for the Committee on Fisheries, and for his report, the content of which we broadly agree with.

 
  
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  Lage (PSE).(PT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, Commissioner, the Busk and Attwooll reports and the Commission documents they deal with are most timely and extremely useful. In fact, we are at a pivotal moment, when all the chapters of the common fisheries policy are in the process of being revised. The reports throw light on the matter and help to explain an essential element of fisheries policy: control and sanctions.

It is worth repeating that the conservation of meagre resources, however renewable, is the vital issue. The fish mortality rate can be regulated, as we know, in various ways; by limiting catches, the TAC and quotas, by limiting the effort and days spent at sea and by holding periodic closures; the model of exploitation can be also be regulated by technical measures, net sizes, minimum fish sizes and closed or restricted zones. Nevertheless – and here is the rub – control systems are essential, because they are designed to ensure that fishing activities respect and comply with the conservation measures that have been adopted.

Unfortunately, what we are seeing today is that the effectiveness and the quality of fisheries control is unequal and leaves a great deal to be desired. There are activities that are controlled effectively and others that are completely uncontrolled. Progress has certainly been made, but as everyone is saying, it is inadequate. Control and the concomitant sanctions, says the report, vary so much between Member States that the final result is biased towards the quite unfair treatment of the fishermen of various countries, which is damaging to the reliability and the acceptance of Community regulations as well as to respect for them.

Under these circumstances, it is crucial to put the finishing touches to the instruments for controlling Community fisheries in the areas of vigilance, inspection and implementation. I should like, lastly, to encourage the Commissioner to give commitments and make adjustments that make his proposal for reform, which is so controversial, acceptable to all the Members States. We sincerely hope that an agreement can be concluded by the end of this year and that we do not sink into a mess of poorly defined regulations.

 
  
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  Nogueira Román (Verts/ALE).(PT) Mr President, Commissioner, the Commission communications and the reports by Mr Busk and Mrs Attwooll show that the common fisheries policy is a giant with feet of clay! The Commission has considerable political and legislative power over the CFP but its instruments are relatively weak, as the Commission itself must acknowledge.

There are evident shortcomings in the CFP’s financial resources and in the management of its implementation. Furthermore, there is a considerable disparity between the monitoring of each State and the sanctions applicable to the same irregular activities, which gives rise to a degree of suspicion about the CFP itself. This shortfall in instruments is also seen in the lack of staff and financial resources, in the participation of regional fisheries organisations and in the issue of agreements with third countries as well as in the scientific study of fish stocks, a field in which the Commission does not have a credible system.

Bearing all of this in mind, I think it would be better to start the reform of the CFP by giving the Commission the necessary financial management instruments, establishing equal access to Community waters and to catches, whilst respecting the principle of sustainable development.

 
  
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  Parish (PPE-DE). – Mr President, firstly I would like to begin by reading a short speech by my colleague, Mrs Langenhagen, who cannot be with us this evening. In her words, "This week the Danish Presidency took off and regarding fisheries it will be a difficult task. We are at a crossroads and unfortunately we are late. Have a look at the fish stocks in our waters and you will see that there is no time to be lost. In my opinion the two reports we are discussing now show clearly the need for action. There is a lack of cooperation in some Member States, and that hinders proper implementation of the CFP. Controls must be strengthened, sanctions must be established with the same level overall in the EU. I am therefore convinced that with this reform of the CFP, Europe has to regain credibility. A major reform will only be successful if the men on board understand what Brussels imposes and believe in the success of the measures to be taken. Clearly we also want to fish in the next decade and beyond, so let us join forces and find the right solution."

I will now continue in my own words. The rapporteur, Mr Busk, has done an excellent job, as has Mrs Attwooll, in writing these reports. I commend them for their worthwhile and committed efforts. However, to use an English phrase, these measures are akin to closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. We are only being forced to introduce such drastic measures thanks to the total failure of the CFP. It is now widely accepted that this policy has been an unmitigated disaster and to a large extent has led to the environmental and economic catastrophe we now find ourselves in.

I accept and support the need for the immediate implementation of checks and monitoring of the fishing fleets in European waters. We must use all the measures available, particularly satellite technology, and this must be rigorously and evenly enforced by all Member States if it is to have any effect.

The Commission has recommended that 6- and 12-mile limits should be retained in order to protect sensitive inshore fisheries. It is interesting to note that in the original draft to the CFP reform proposals, which were widely leaked in March, the Commission stated that 6- and 12-mile limits should become a permanent feature of the CFP without any time limitation. That was how it put it. Now mysteriously that has disappeared to be replaced by a simple reaffirmation of the need for 12-mile limits. Despite Mr Fischler's assurances that he did not succumb to the bullying by Spanish Prime Minister, Mr Aznar, it seems that Spanish threats to take the Commission to court over open-access agreements may have borne fruit. These changes are hugely disappointing and hugely worrying. I would welcome an explanation as to why they occurred.

It is essential that we see real management responsibility with the 12-mile limits given back to the Member States involved. Greater responsibility for conservation management measures and enforcement relating to all those vessels of any nationality operating within those zones must fall to Member States.

As far as the controversial issue of discards is concerned, it is time to sort out this whole sorry mess once and for all. We cannot continue the policy which leads to overall 2 million tonnes of healthy fish – 25% of all fish caught in the EU – being dumped dead back into the sea every year. UK fishermen are outraged at discards, which continually account for nearly 50% of catches. Much of this problem can be traced to the way in which we operate TACs and quotas. Let us be clear about this. TACs and quotas were introduced in the CFP, not for conservation purposes, but to aid in the process of sharing out fishing rights. However, there are many who would argue that "fair" is not a word that can be applied to the CFP. When the UK entered the CFP in 1972, the agreement which we reached was a body blow to the British fishing industry.

In closing, in many people's eyes the CFP is drinking in the last-chance saloon. There is too much at stake to get it wrong a second time.

 
  
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  Pérez Álvarez (PPE-DE).(ES) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, Commissioner, I would first of all like to thank the rapporteurs of both these reports for their hard work.

There are many types of behaviour which infringe or could infringe the rules of the common fisheries policy, and it is a fact that actions constituting infringements may be somewhat hazy both due to the lack of information by the Member States and the lack of points of reference and possibilities of comparing markers, and also to difficulties in interpreting and reading information, given the lack of data on infringements proposed, fleet size, most effective control mechanisms and resources, etc.

While accepting the need for a certain amount of flexibility in interpreting rules and assessing behaviour, I believe now is the time to back reinforced cooperation between the various national inspection authorities, in order to provide information on penalties for infringements committed and also to back truly dissuasive, efficient, effective penalties, equal treatment and also to back a brave decision to prevent the entry of the products of illegal fishing into the European Union. The most serious infringement procedures concern illegal, undeclared and unregulated fishing, which is detrimental to the protection of fisheries resources and also penalises fishermen who do not commit infringements, the perpetrators of which – I mean the illegal fishermen – are undeterred by the pecuniary or monetary fine and still make a profit from their illegal activity, and are not discouraged from continuing to fish illegally.

In conclusion, we must achieve an effective control, application and notification system, as stated in recital A, but this system will inevitably require of the Member States a spirit of mutual trust and accountability and an equal commitment to notifying infringements securely and effectively.

Commissioner, taking the opportunity to reform the CFP to this end would make European Union actions more transparent and effective.

 
  
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  Fischler, Commission. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the two reports which are the subject of this debate both deal with the implementation of the common fisheries policy. I greatly welcome the fact that you, Mr Busk, and the Committee on Fisheries support the Commission's report on the monitoring of the implementation of the common fisheries policy.

We all agree that controls and the enforcement of the legislation are key themes in the common fisheries policy. However, the improvements made by the Member States in their systems of monitoring and enforcement are still very patchy, and so the fishermen quite rightly feel that they are treated unequally in different parts of the Community. Within the Member States, there is unequal competition, and there are wide variations in Member States' sanction procedures.

We have followed Parliament's debate on this report very closely, and I note your recommendations. During the second half of this year, I will be submitting to the Commission an Action Plan for more cooperation in control and enforcement and on common fisheries inspection. The purpose of this Action Plan, as well as achieving more effective monitoring and enforcement, is primarily to ensure more uniform implementation of the common fisheries policy.

In your report, you call for a list of sanctions to be drawn up. The Commission welcomes this. Your suggestion is based on the proposals on the reform of the common fisheries policy. As soon these are adopted, we will submit such a list to Parliament and to the Council.

As regards Mrs Attwooll's report, I would like to express my thanks for her positive statement on our communication. Mrs Attwooll, your words clearly show that Parliament and the Commission are pulling together on the issue of a standard procedure to deal with infringements and on the call for uniform sanctions.

The purpose of our communication was to compare, in a transparent way, how the provisions of the common fisheries policy are adhered to and what procedures are adopted in the event of infringements. Such infringements include, for example, non-compliance with the licence provisions, permitted fishing equipment, or the issue of landing and controls. When drawing up our first communication, we faced a number of fundamental problems: firstly, the majority of Member States submitted their data far too late and not in the required format, which made computer processing far more difficult.

Secondly, one Member State, namely France, initially preferred not to submit any data at all. Thirdly, some of the information submitted by some Member States was incomplete.

Today, I can put on record that all Member States have now come into line with the stipulations of Commission Regulation 2740/99. However, the approach that was initially adopted naturally makes a comparison of the situations in the Member States very difficult. Nonetheless, based on the information submitted to us, we can draw the following conclusions: firstly, the majority of infringements relate to fishing without a fishing licence for a specific zone. Secondly, in some Member States, infringements are prosecuted under criminal law, whereas in others, they are dealt with solely by administrative means. Thirdly, there are major differences in the penalties imposed by the various Member States. Often, the penalties are simply not designed to be a deterrent.

We have therefore put forward targeted proposals as part of the reform of the CFP. We need uniform regulations on the enforcement of the common fisheries policy. The sanctions must be effective and must also be such as to deprive the transgressor of the profit accrued through the infringement, and we need measures to prevent repeated and serious violations. Furthermore, when we drafted the communication on infringements brought to light in 2001, the majority of Member States did not submit their reports on time on that occasion either. For this reason, the Commission was itself unable to adhere to the deadline for the second communication, namely 1 June 2002. The call for Parliament to be informed in future by 15 April if Member States fail to comply with their reporting duty is something that I gladly support. I hope that we can pursue this approach so that the public finds out which Member States are meeting their responsibilities, and which are failing to do so.

 
  
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  President. – Thank you very much, Commissioner Fischler.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow at 12 noon.(1)

(The sitting was adjourned at 11.35 p.m.)

 
  

(1) Agenda for next sitting: see Minutes.

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