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Whaling & eco-sensitive issues, advice from Commissioner Fischler to Iceland

Commissioner Franz Fischler: visit to Iceland 10th August 2003

DN: IP/03/1154

11th August 2003



On a visit to Iceland on August 10, EU Agriculture and Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler met with Icelandic President Olafur Grimsson and Fisheries Minister Árni M. Mathiesen. During his visit the Commissioner discussed in particular fisheries policy and especially the importance of conservation, the ongoing global trade negotiations in the WTO and the future of the European Union, in particular in view of the forthcoming enlargement.

Fisheries Policy

Commissioner Fischler recognised that fishing is a vitally important aspect of the bilateral relationship, given its crucial role in the Icelandic economy. Mr Fischler underlined the importance that the EU attaches to the fisheries agreement between the two parties and which involve reciprocal fishing possibilities for their fleets. He indicated that the EU would like greater flexibility for its fishing vessels to catch their available quotas in Icelandic waters and for control measures on EU vessels to be similar to those applied to local vessels by the Icelandic monitoring and inspection services.

The Commissioner stressed the importance of multilateral co-operation in the north-east Atlantic to ensure effective management of the important pelagic fisheries such as blue whiting, mackerel and Atlanto-Scandian herring in this area. On the particular question of blue whiting, Mr Fischler expressed the EU's continued concern at the lack of agreement among the interested parties on management measures for this fishery. Landings had reached 1.5 million tonnes while scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) stood at less than two-thirds of that level for next year. Mr Fischler said that he regretted Iceland's decision to increase its quota to over 500,000 tonnes and this in a situation where Iceland had begun to target this fishery only a few years ago. He also recalled that agreement had not been reached on herring beyond bi-lateral and ad-hoc arrangements.

The recent reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, Mr Fischler said, would improve fisheries management not only in EU waters but also beyond. The new approach towards long-term management, phasing out subsidies for fleet renewal, more effective enforcement of the rules and increased involvement of stakeholders in CFP management would achieve sustainable fisheries. These changes, added to strengthened international co-operation, will be beneficial for both the EU and its partners, including Iceland.

On the question of the recent announcement by Iceland to resume whaling for research purposes, the Commissioner pointed out that in the European Union
, the hunting of whales is a very sensitive issue for public opinion.

All whales species are protected under the Habitats Directive (1), the main piece of European legislation aiming at protecting natural habitats and wild fauna. Member States have undertaken to establish a system of strict protection in order to ensure their favourable conservation status.

The hunting of whales and trading in whale products is consequently forbidden in the EU.

WTO negotiations

On the subject of WTO negotiations on fisheries subsidies, Commissioner Fischler said "Our reform of the Common Fisheries Policy has also enabled us to present comprehensive proposals on this issue to the WTO earlier this year. In those proposals we opt for a clear-cut prohibition of capacity enhancing subsidies, as well as for an endorsement of those subsidies which support sustainable fisheries.” On the question of market access and tariffs the Commissioner added, " I have to say that we would have certain misgivings about Chairman Girard's most recent, rather surprising, proposals for a sectoral zero-for-zero approach for fisheries products. We would prefer to stay with a non-sectoral approach that, by way of an adequately constructed formula, should give reasonable tariff reductions for fisheries products. Furthermore, we also believe that such an approach would also be more accommodating for the specific interests of the developing countries. "

Commissioner Fischler pointed out that Iceland and the EU are broadly on the same wavelength in their objectives for the agriculture negotiations. The EU like Iceland believes that negotiations are always an exercise in compromise and that we owe it to the developing countries to make Cancun a success. In particular, the agreement reached at the end of June for a reform of the EU's farm policy means that the Union has taken further steps away from trade distorting domestic support, and also allows the EU to cut back further on its export subsidies. And, as the EU has continually stressed, Europeans have stepped up to the table and it is now up to others to come forward.

EU Enlargement

Commissioner Fischler said that with the accession of ten new countries next year the EU is on the verge of opening a new chapter in its history: "It marks the reunification of a continent previously torn apart by war, and it extends the democracy, stability, and prosperity that characterises EU membership to the ten new members who will be joining it on 1st May next year.” An EU of 25 members makes it all the more important to define clear objectives, ambitions and administrative structures. The Convention on the Future of Europe has presented a proposal for a new EU treaty with a real set of options. "The task now lying ahead for the inter-governmental conference, starting in October, is to prepare a constitution for the half a billion citizens of an EU-25 that inspires confidence in the European ideal, and creates a European Union that is fully accessible for, and accountable to, all its citizens ".

(1) Directive 92/43/EEC, OJ L 206, 22.7.92, p.7