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Verbatim report of proceedings
Monday, 26 September 2005 - Strasbourg OJ edition

16. Protocol to the EEC-Comoros Agreement on tuna fishing

  President. The next item is the debate on the report by Mrs Fraga Estévez, on behalf of the Committee on Fisheries, on the proposal for a Council regulation on the conclusion of the protocol setting out the tuna fishing opportunities and financial contribution provided for in the Agreement between the European Economic Community and the Islamic Federal Republic of the Comoros on fishing off the Comoros for the period from 1 January 2005 to 31 December 2010 [COM(2005)0187 C6-0154/2005 2005/0092(CNS)] (A6-0260/2005).


  Joe Borg, Member of the Commission. Mr President, before outlining the Commission's position on this dossier, let me first thank the Committee on Fisheries and especially the rapporteur, Mrs Fraga Estévez, for her excellent work carried out within the very tight deadlines.

I am happy to be able to present to you the draft proposal for the conclusion of the Protocol setting out the tuna fishing opportunities and financial contribution under the EEC-Comoros Agreement.

As the honourable Members know, the Community has a longstanding relation with the Comoros in the fisheries area. The first fisheries agreement with the country dates back to 1988. Although it is the smallest tuna agreement, it is of importance due to the strategic location of this fishery in the Indian Ocean as well as for the fishing possibilities obtained.

The new Protocol, which was initialled on 24 November 2004, covers a 6-year period from 1 January 2005 to 31 December 2010. The protocol grants fishing opportunities for 40 tuna seiners and 17 surface longliners and has a financial contribution of EUR 390 000 per year. The agreement is one that is of mutual benefit to both parties and contains a number of new elements including the following. Firstly, an exclusivity clause, which prohibits the existence of private licences or other private arrangements outside the scope of the Agreement. Secondly, a VMS requirement to reinforce checks on vessels operating in Comorian waters. Thirdly, the social clause applicable to local seamen signed on by Community vessels. Fourthly, rules on taking on board observers and, fifthly, adjustment of the share-out of the cost of the Agreement between the Community and shipowners from a ratio of EUR 75/25 per tonne to EUR 65/35 per tonne, which is already applied in other tuna agreements in the Pacific. This increase of the shipowners' share of the cost will gradually be applied to all tuna agreements in the Community as was called for in the reform of the common fisheries policy.

I believe that these new elements introduced in dialogue with the Comoros authorities and according to the principles set out in the new Fisheries Partnership Agreements will ensure that the Comoros Agreement contributes to responsible and sustainable fisheries in the Comoros.

This work includes the establishment of annual and multi-annual objectives, the distribution of the part of the financial compensation – 60%, the aims to be attained and criteria and procedures in order to allow for an evaluation of the yearly results obtained in accordance with Article 7 of the Protocol.

Let me now turn to the amendments. On Amendment 1, the Commission is of the opinion that this is not necessary, given that the procedure for the adoption of the new Framework Agreement – the Fisheries Partnership Agreement – will soon be launched.

On Amendments 2, 3 and 5, the Commission is entirely in agreement with their spirit. However, the Commission already complies with the transmission of this kind of information in line with both the current inter-institutional arrangements and in particular with the Framework Agreement between the Commission and the European Parliament. Therefore, the Commission considers that these amendments are not necessary.

On Amendment 4, may I recall the basic Community provisions concerning the mandate of the Commission to negotiate on behalf of the Community. The Council has authorised the Commission to negotiate fisheries agreements and arrangements between the Community and the Comoros. Against this background, the periodic renewal does not require a new mandate each time.

Amendment 6 cannot be accepted by the Commission. The Commission has established a constant dialogue with the industry within the framework of a special sectoral group. This group meets on a regular basis and discusses upcoming negotiations and any other technical issues. In addition, experts from Member States are invited to be present during the negotiations of a fisheries agreement or protocol.


  Carmen Fraga Estévez (PPE-DE), rapporteur. (ES) Mr President, I am sure that this House, like the Committee on Fisheries, will support the signing of this Fisheries Agreement between the European Union and the Comoros, which follows on from previous protocols and which will enable 57 Community vessels to fish until 2010.

This agreement also represents a further step in the new model of association agreements intended to promote even greater cooperation and greater involvement in the development of the third country’s fisheries sector. Nevertheless, while we support the principles behind this model, we must insist that it is far from clear.

Firstly, it is the first one to reach Parliament in which, unilaterally and without any request from the third country, the Commission has decided to raise the sum paid by shipowners per tonne fished from EUR 25 to 35, that is to say by 40%, and without having consulted them. The Commission defends itself by saying that the rise was anticipated in the conclusions of the 2004 Council of Ministers, but what we all deduced from those conclusions was that there would be a gradual increase in these payments, when in reality there has been a rather brutal rise by decree.

This Parliament, like the sector, finds itself faced with a fait accompli policy, carried out by the Commission’s negotiators quite independently, and without giving us the opportunity to examine those decisions more than fleetingly, and the protocol reaches our committee – increasingly late by the way – signed and sealed.

Our Institution does not believe that this situation of obscurantism should continue. I therefore propose in my report that shipowners now be allowed to attend joint committees so that they can at least be informed in real time of what is being prepared for them.

As far as Parliament is concerned, I would like to take this opportunity to ask once again – and this time I am addressing the Council, which is not present – for a member of the Committee on Fisheries to be present in the negotiations as an observer. We genuinely do not understand why it objects, since an observer cannot interfere in the decision-making, but if we were to be present, we would be better informed, which cannot do any harm, unless the negotiators have something to hide.

Equally serious, from a budgetary point of view this time, is the fact that, contrary to the Council’s conclusions, some of these agreements, such as the one we are dealing with today, are not respecting the obligatory differentiation between what is paid in return for fishing opportunities and what is paid as development aid.

From the point of view of budgetary transparency, this situation is unacceptable. Furthermore, the Commission is clearly aware of it and has admitted to the Committee on Fisheries that it is failing to comply with this obligation. However, it is not giving the slightest indication of what has led it to do so, at least in this case.

Finally, Mr President, for the sake of the necessary simplification and following an admirable period of patience on the part of this Parliament, the time has come to demand that the Commission present its model for regional agreements and, in particular, the tuna type of agreement.

As we know, the tuna fleet is requesting fishing licences from each country of the area so that it can follow schools of tuna that cross the different fishing grounds. This currently obliges it to take on a significant number of seamen from each of the countries, which turns each vessel into a miniature United Nations, sometimes causing insurmountable problems with languages, customs, traditions and also space, not to mention cost.

This is a totally absurd situation, as is the uncertainty over some of the more practical aspects, such as the actual definition of a tide or, for example, the mechanics of electronic transmissions. It may be understandable that negotiators do not take account of these details, but if we put ourselves in the shoes of a skipper for a moment, we will realise that, at the end of the day, his main concerns are administrative and personnel issues rather than the fishing itself.

Mr President, while calling, naturally, for the approval of this agreement, which is essential to the European supply of tuna and to the fisheries sector of the Comoros, I would like account to be taken of the comments I have made here.


  Helga Trüpel (Verts/ALE), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Budgets. (DE) Mr President, Commissioner Borg, I would just like to start by re-emphasising that fisheries policy, which is of course so important in the European Union, is a classic example of the need to reconcile economic interests and the needs of the environment. The European Union has set itself the goal of protecting fish stocks and helping them to recover, while at the same time avoiding overfishing and promoting the economic interests of the fish industry. If that is to be achieved, though, transparency is of the very essence, and it is with that in mind that the Committee on Budgets has tabled the two amendments to which I want to devote this speech.

This agreement is due to expire in 2010, and the crucial issue in relation to it is whether, as it is a new one, there really will be an ex-post evaluation and whether that evaluation will then be forwarded to this House in good time before new arrangements are made and a new Agreement negotiated. This House is insistent that it be properly and punctually notified when the data of this ex-post evaluation are available, and so what I would like from you, Commissioner Borg, is a quite unambiguous undertaking that this House will indeed be so informed and will receive the data from any such ex-post evaluation within the proper deadlines.

By the same token, we are fed up with the situation in which proposals for agreements reach this House months after fishing has already commenced. I also expect from you a clear statement as to whether you will change this practice and start notifying and informing this House in good time.


  Dorette Corbey, on behalf of the PSE Group. (NL) Mr President, I would like to thank both rapporteurs, whose report I have read with much interest. Tuna is a much-loved, healthy fish, packed with the Omega 3 fish oil that is so important. What is important is for the tuna species to survive fisheries so that future fishermen will be able to catch tuna and future consumers will be able to enjoy it.

The content of the fisheries agreements is of vital importance to European fisheries, the developing countries and particularly also to the fish. Although, as a new member on the Committee on Fisheries, I missed the debates on the Comoros, I would nevertheless like to make two points.

The first one pertains to fair fish and real partnerships. The agreement follows an arrangement that was very profitable for the European Union. For every euro that was invested, the European Union earned EUR 5.7 back. Unfortunately, the same could not be said about the Comoros, a poverty-stricken country. I am therefore a little surprised at Mrs Fraga’s disapproval of the fishermen’s and the EU’s contributions increasing. It was a very profitable arrangement, after all. Only by striking real partnerships, rather than by unilateral financial benefit, can development cooperation, fisheries and scientific research become more cohesive.

I am right behind the Committee on Development when it says that it would like to spend fishery funds on local fishermen. I would like to see more detailed specifications about local people being employed on the boats.

Secondly, with regard to sustainable fish, consumers must be given the opportunity of buying sustainable fish, sustainable tuna, certified by MSE or a similar body. Sustainable fish is, above all else, fish that is not being over-fished. For that purpose, we require certain data, and close monitoring and inspection must also be in place. Article 7 of the Protocol stipulates that the EU should help ensure the future sustainability of tuna fishing.

I have a few questions. Can the Commissioner assure me that ‘in future’ means as soon as possible? What action will you be taking in order to ensure in the short term that Indo-Pacific tuna is also sustainable tuna? What capacities must the Government of the Comoros develop in order to be able to guarantee sustainable tuna fishing, and what support is the European Union offering in this respect?

Sustainable fish is also fish without the bycatch of threatened fish species. Sharks, turtles and dolphins run the risk of being circled and caught. Bigeye tuna and yellowfin tuna are threatened species that are caught in the same nets. Are you aware, Commissioner, of the quantities of bigeye tuna and yellowfin tuna that are to be found in the Comoros region? When will the results of the studies which the European Union has commissioned be published and what level of support is the European Union giving to the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission’s Working Party on Bycatch?


  Carl Schlyter, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. (SV) Mr President, the Comoros is a long way from here, and what we are doing there is happening secretly. It does not reach the debate here at home. If, however, the TV pictures from Comoros were to reach our living rooms, Parliament would never approve this agreement. We buy up the fishing rights from the government, but those from whom we are really taking the fish, that is to say the fishermen in the villages, have no influence and seldom receive adequate compensation. Neither national parliaments nor the European Parliament has any influence worth mentioning, but is presented with a fait accompli. Only ten months after the agreement has begun are we given a chance to express our opinion. This Parliament has demanded change on many occasions. It is time to take back democratic control over these agreements, which have more to do with old-fashioned colonialism than with modern trade and democracy. I therefore welcome the proposal that more information be obtained. I would thank the Commission for the increased co-funding from those who make use of the agreement, so that there is less of a burden on our taxpayers, but I regret the fact that the agreement is being extended to include several tonnes per year. I believe that the partner country’s small-scale fishing communities must be given the right of veto over the agreements. My group will vote against this agreement, which favours EU fishermen at the expense of poorer colleagues in the South.


  Hélène Goudin, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. (SV) Mr President, the EU’s fisheries agreements with third countries have been exposed to extensive criticism by more than one organisation working on development issues, including Sweden’s Committee for International Development Cooperation (Sida). The agreements have certainly been reformed, but criticism of the present partnership agreements is fully justified.

The Comoros has a strategic position and, according to the rapporteur, a fisheries agreement with this island republic would therefore supplement the EU’s present agreements with third countries. It is, in other words, the EU’s narrow interests that are to be protected, rather than what might be thought of as the interests of the indigent Comoran fishermen. The EU exploits its assumption of power in order to secure short-term economic interests. The tuna fish agreement with the Comoros is not especially extensive, but the issue of fisheries agreements is important on principle. It would be only right for the costs of the fisheries agreements to be imposed in full on those parties who choose to make use of them. Why should European taxpayers pay for fisheries agreements that favour the fleets of just a few EU countries? The rapporteur believes that shipowners pay too much for these agreements. The June List believes that this should not be an issue for the EU and that the agreements should not be paid for at all using EU resources.

The UK Presidency and the Commission have stated that development issues in Africa are a policy area to be given priority. There is, however, limited will seriously to reform the EU’s counterproductive agricultural, trade and fisheries policy. The ambition seems to be to increase aid without doing anything about the structural problems that make it difficult for the developing countries to escape from poverty.


  Manuel Medina Ortega (PSE). – (ES) Mr President, previous speakers have not even bothered to visit the countries with which we sign fisheries agreements; I have done so: I have been in the Comoros, I have lived amongst its people, I have seen how they live and I have seen the importance of this Agreement to the economic development of these islands. I therefore believe that we should not be talking nonsense before knowing what we are talking about.

I entirely agree with the rapporteur on this issue. I believe that this is an important Agreement for us and for the population of the Comoros and I therefore approve of its wording.

The Agreement helps to maintain the stability of the sector here and contributes to the development of those countries. We have moved on from the first exclusively commercial agreements to agreements by means of which we are helping those countries to develop.

The current structure of the agreements assists the development of these countries. We could probably do more if the fishermen and the shipowners were to participate more. The Committee on Fisheries’ proposals in this regard are reasonable and we fully support them; they would help us to avoid bureaucratic procedures.

We also need a general policy with regard to the whole of this area of the Indian Ocean, in which, although our presence in terms of seiners is significant, the general presence of the European Union is very small compared to the fishing of these resources by Asian countries such as Taiwan, Japan or the Republic of Korea, who are exploiting those resources at the expense of the population.

The European Union’s volume of fishing is very moderate and I naturally agree with the rapporteur’s complaint that there is a kind of discrimination, by virtue of which, in the agreements with the south, it is the fishermen who have to pay, while in the case of the agreements with the north, this increase in payments that they now want to impose on us is not happening. In any event, the Agreement is important for us and for the countries of this area and I would naturally like this approach to be taken with regard to other aspects.

There could perhaps be reasons for opposing it in view of the considerations I have expressed, but I believe that the European Union is obliged to continue developing this type of relationship. These countries, and the Comoros in particular, desperately require our presence. The Comoros are three small remote islands in the Indian Ocean, they are not really in any great strategic position, they are in the Mozambique Channel, their citizens suffer from every possible disease – dengue fever, malaria, yellow fever and others – and the great problem facing these islands is precisely the absence of the elements required for development.

I believe that the Fisheries Agreement is something that can and must help, provided that we involve our seamen and fishermen much more in the economic development of these islands, for their own benefit and also for the benefit of the European Union.


  Joe Borg, Member of the Commission. Mr President, I would like to start by thanking all the speakers for their remarks. I would like to comment on a number of points, beginning with the one raised by Mrs Fraga concerning licence fees. The rebalancing of costs is not something which is new. If one looks at the evolution of this since the mid-1980s, one finds that until the mid-1990s the share ratio was 80:20. Then, from the mid 1990s up to the present day, the share ratio changed to 75:25.

We are introducing a new sharing of costs of 65:35. I can say that the Commission's decision to increase the tuna fee paid by shipowners is justified in several respects, including the need to increase the financial responsibility of EC shipowners and guarantee a fair contribution for the coastal state. As indicated in the Council's conclusions of July 2004, this contribution must be fair, balanced and non-discriminatory.

The 35:65 share is already applied in all the tuna agreements concluded in the Pacific, including Kiribati and the Solomon Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Member States concerned did not object to this.

By the time of the renewal of the EC-Seychelles Protocol last September the Commission had already announced to the Council's external group that it intended to adopt the 35:65 ratio. During negotiations, the Seychelles asked the Commission to delay this change in order to avoid distortion of competition with the Tanzania Agreement, which is soon to enter into force and under the initial phase of which the applicable ratio will still be 25:75. The EC/Seychelles agreement therefore maintained the 25:75 ratio, but a formula was agreed under which the transition to the 35:65 ratio will take effect in the near future.

Harmonisation of the 35:65 ratio in other fisheries agreements will be introduced in 2006. The same 35:65 ratio will be introduced in the other fisheries agreements in the area, those with Mauritius and Madagascar, which will be negotiated in 2006.

In addition, the Commission intends to hold a meeting with the tuna sector by the end of 2005, to discuss all relevant issues.

I also underline and repeat that there is constant dialogue with the sector, within the framework of the special sectoral group, and I will see to it that this dialogue is further intensified. I will also see what can be done to minimise as far as possible the delays in making payments to third parties.

On the point raised by Mrs Corbey, may I point out that all agreements are undertaken further to an assessment of the health of fish stocks. Let me cite the recent Morocco agreement, where the Commission showed how seriously it takes its obligations by first undertaking a scientific assessment, in accordance with the new policy for the fisheries partnership agreements. The agreement was then targeted on what one may term 'the excess stock'. In other words, the fish that can be caught sustainably, beyond what local fishermen can themselves catch. So the agreement only covers that excess stock of fish within the limits of sustainability. This policy is being adopted and applied to all fishery partnership agreements.

I thank Mr Schlyter for his support with regard to the rebalancing of the costs. I also thank Mr Medina Ortega for his support with regard to the new partnership agreement on fisheries and I will see to it that everything is done to limit unnecessary red tape. I would also like to thank him for the insights stemming from his direct experience of fisheries in the Comoros and the Indian Ocean.

In reply to Mrs Goudin, this agreement envisages a development segment under which the Union not only benefits from fishing rights but is obliged to assist in the fisheries sector of the Comoros. This is a new element of the partnership agreements which is being introduced to all agreements with third countries.


  President. The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow at 12 noon.

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