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Ireland's Coveney vows to help break EU fisheries reform deadlock

  |   May 13, 2013 at 12:03 AM
BRUSSELS, May 13 (UPI) -- Irish Fisheries Minister Simon Coveney says he will push hard to resolve a looming deadlock on proposed reforms to the European Union's Common Fisheries policy this week.

Coveney said ahead of a meeting of the EU council of fishing ministers in Brussels that he will try to hammer out a compromise among squabbling member nations, some of whom are bitterly opposed the European Parliament's demands for quick implementation of a series of reforms, such as a total ban on the practice of discarding edible fish.

Southern European nations fear the ambitious proposals from the Parliament and backed by the European Commission calling for a quick end to decades of overfishing will decimate their local industries.

They oppose efforts to move off a "general approach" adopted by the council in February, which would allow member countries to continue to discard up to 9 percent of their catches and avoid a hard date of 2015 by when all EU members would have to start abiding by "maximum sustainable yield" quotas.

That inflexibility prompted a warning last month from the Parliament's negotiator, Ulrike Rodust, who said a breakdown that would delay fishing reforms for years is looming unless a new compromise can be found.

Ireland's Coveney, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU Council, has spent the last few weeks working up a new 200-page negotiating stance to present to his fellow EU fishing ministers for their approval.

The draft "constitutes a significant improvement" over the earlier position, Rodust said, but Coveney warned getting member nations to agree on it will be "extremely difficult."

"I am asking ministers to go beyond the very hard won agreement that was hammered out and supported by 26 member states in council in February," he said.

The Irish presidency has "made good progress in negotiations with the Parliament," but, Coveney added, "We are under no illusions on how difficult it will be to get council agreement to this ambitious package.

"I will endeavor in council to keep the council as united as possible in support of a reform package which, if then agreed with Parliament, can bring about radical and substantial change to EU fisheries policy."

Rodust, a German MEP of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, said progress on reaching fisheries reforms had been brought to a halt "by the failure of the council to compromise.

"At risk are measures to set legally binding targets to rebuild Europe's depleted fish stocks and introduce tight controls on the discarding of fish. Both are regarded as a fundamental test of whether the CFP can be made fit for purpose."

MEPs spearheading the reform effort say they're willing to compromise as well, but continue to hold tough stances on discards and setting MSY quotas by 2015.

They also say the recalcitrance of southern European EU members is in part the result of their inability to accept Parliament's role in setting fisheries policy -- this is the first time it has been involved in the process.

"These governments do not seem to be ready to accept that under the Lisbon Treaty, the European Parliament has equal decision making powers on fisheries reform," a pro-reform group of MEPs said in a May 2 letter to the council.

"If this group of member states form a blocking minority in council and refuse to give the Irish presidency a mandate to meet the Parliament halfway, then the fisheries reform may well be completely blocked."

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