Austrian Council Presidency: a bridge builder for EU fisheries?

Tuesday 17 July 2018

On 1 July 2018, Austria took over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the third time after 1998 and 2006. A sound leadership will be needed under this Presidency in order to ensure a positive outcome on many critical dossiers, notably with regard to maritime and fisheries affairs before the next European elections, on May 2019.

Although talking about marine fisheries may sound unusual for a land-locked country such as Austria, Austria’s traditional role as a bridge builder could ensure smooth-running negotiations on many complex files and enable it to achieve the priorities of its mandate.

On 11 July, the Presidency had its first test bench during a meeting of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee, in Brussels. On this occasion, Ambassador Thomas Oberreiter presented the key files to be negotiated by the European institutions and, possibly, completed under the Austrian mandate.

Three multiannual management plans proposals for fish stocks – in the Western Waters[1], for small pelagic stocks in the Adriatic Sea[2] and for demersal stocks in the Western Mediterranean Sea[3] - are currently under discussion in the European Parliament. The aim of these multiannual plans is to ensure that the fish stocks in the concerned areas are exploited at sustainable levels and according to the principles enshrined in the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). After the publication of the Parliament’s draft report[4], the Presidency intents to put a special focus on this file to make sure that it is quickly adopted and implemented before Brexit.

Furthermore, the trilogue negotiations (between the Council, the Parliament and the European Commission) on the technical measures regulation[5] are still ongoing and the Presidency aims to reach a final agreement shortly after the summer break, even if Ambassador Oberreiter acknowledged that there are still some major political issues that need to be tackled.

The Presidency also pursue to advance the discussions on the proposed European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) for the period after 2020 and will have to deal with the issue of the proposed 5% cut in the budget, which will affect the fisheries sector. It is in the intent of the Presidency to work on the simplification of the funding access procedure in order to remedy the limited uptake of EMFF resources by Member States.   

As for the proposed revision of the Fisheries Control Regulation[6], the Presidency aims to reach an agreement on this issue during its mandate to simplify the obligations for the fisheries sector, although Ambassador Oberreiter admitted that it will be very difficult to adopt the proposal before the 2019 European elections.

The negotiations between the different Member States on the 2019 catch limits (TACs and quotas) for the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, the North Sea and the Atlantic will be predominant in the Presidency’s work, as well as the establishment of quotas for deep-sea species and the negotiations of autonomous tariff quotas.

The Presidency will also have to deal with the controversial and pending issue of the implementation of the landing obligation for all catches, which was introduced in 2013 by the CFP[7]  with the aim of progressively eliminating the practice of discards and improving selectivity. Indeed, the landing obligation should be fully in place by next year but both Member States and the fisheries sector are reporting delays and problems in the implementation due to the complexity of the policy.

With respect to the external dimension of the CFP, the Austrian Presidency will continue to work at the international and regional level to promote sustainable fisheries and combating Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The cooperation with Romania, which will take over the presidency of the Council in January 2019, will be important for the accomplishment of pending dossiers in the context of the European elections next year.








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