Ministers call for EU aid to fisheries
The ministers’ call for direct EU aid was met with opposition from The Netherlands and Portugal who believes long-term measures should be adopted instead.28 May 2008
BRDO PRI KRANJU - EU ministers called Tuesday for direct EU economic aid to the fishing industry but met with opposition from The Netherlands and Portugal, as European fishermen continued to protest soaring fuel costs.
France and Spain, whose fishermen are demanding higher government subsidies in the face of rising oil prices, led the call for direct EU economic assistance.
"Spain asks for measures at the EU level," Spanish Agriculture Minister Elena Espinosa Mangana told journalists on the sidelines of a conference of EU agriculture ministers, hosted by current EU president Slovenia.
French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier also warned that the EU should consider introducing direct economic assistance, rather than rely on imports from third countries, if it wants to keep a strong fishing industry.
"I'm thinking of some sort of direct European intervention," Barnier said, adding that other EU ministers had agreed that "a budget should be earmarked for the provision of economic assistance to the fishing industry.
The proposal will be discussed at the next ministerial fisheries meeting in Brussels in June, he said.
Barnier also insisted that current national aid ceilings for fishermen "should be increased because it is too limited at the moment," a call that was backed by Italy and Germany.
EU member states can currently give their fishermen a subsidy of up to EUR 30,000 over a three-year period without seeking the European Commission's approval.
But French and Spanish fishermen consider this too low and have demanded additional help from their governments to be able to cope with the sharp increase of diesel prices.
"Italy and France agree on the fact that the situation related to oil prices is very serious... and call for a common action (to raise state subsidy levels)," said Italy's Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Luca Zaia.
The Netherlands and Portugal however expressed scepticism to the proposals presented by Paris and Madrid, warning that they should instead seek a long-term solution for the fishermen, including modernising their fleets and increasing competitiveness.
"I have a lot of hesitation," Dutch Agriculture Minister Gerda Verburg told AFP, about handing fishermen additional subsidies from Brussels.
"It would be a better idea to renew the fishing fleet and help the fishing sector innovate," she said.
Portugal's Fisheries Minister Jaime Silva was even more reluctant to accept the proposal.
"High oil prices are here to stay. This reality cannot be avoided by new measures that do not solve the problem," he told journalists.
Silva added that European fishermen should adapt and become more competitive.
They should "modernise boats and diversify. Not just catch the fish, but transform fish and sell it in a different way," he said.
French fishermen launched protests on 10 May to press for compensation for soaring fuel costs and Spanish fleets joined the stoppage on Monday, with others in Belgium, Greece, Italy, and Portugal announcing plans to follow.
But many ministers at Tuesday's meeting warned privately that any concessions to the fishery sector could give rise to similar demands from other sectors affected by soaring oil prices, such as road transportation, farmers and taxi drivers.
Some 400,000 people in the EU depend on the fishing sector, mainly in Spain, France, Italy and Portugal.
[AFP / Expatica]