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MEPs Back Aid for Europe's Fishermen

EU - European parliament members have backed an aid packaged ofr the EU fishermen, hit by rising fuel costs.

The plight of the EU fishing fleet was discussed last week by MEPs on Parliament's Fisheries Committee.

MEPs heard from representatives of the fishing industry about the pressure the industry is under with fuel up 40 per cent since January.

Parliament had earlier passed a resolution calling on more state aid to be afforded to Europe's fishermen.

MEPs also passed a resolution supporting the fishermen and suggesting ways to help the beleaguered industry.

In particular MEPs called on the European Commission to reconsider it rules of state aid (outlawed by EU law) and allow a maximum of €100,000 of aid per boat rather than by fishing company. At present this ceiling of possible aid for fishing companies only. This could greatly increase aid to fishermen.

Cost of Landing Fish up 40 per cent from January

A sign of the extent of the pressure on the fishing industry is that over the last five years the costs of fishing have risen by 320 per cent. Since January this year the cost of landing fish has jumped by 40 per cent alone.

Speaking at the meeting last week, Guy Varnaeve, a representative of "Europeche", an Association of national organizations of fishing enterprises outlined the specific nature of the industry.

He said that all boats run on diesel and the constant need for more fish (and therefore revenue) forces them to travel ever greater distances.

In his remarks Mr Vernaeve welcomed the proposals by the Commission to enforce stronger fines for illegal fishing and plans to treat it as a criminal offence. He also welcomed the possibility that some European Union members may provide social support for the fisheries industry.

Long Term Problem of Fewer Fish and Higher Fuel

The steps the Commission has taken were welcomed by the Chair of the Fisheries Committee, French MEP Philippe Morillon (ALDE). However, he noted that "these short-term measures cannot solve the basic problems in the sector".

Speaking for employers in the fishing industry, Ramiro Otero - President of the ETF (Fédération européenne des Travailleurs des Transports) called for a long-term European strategy and the use of the EU's structural funds to help the sector. He told the meeting that "our salaries are directly linked to the catch of fish. Therefore, this is not a new crisis in the sector, but a long-term crisis. It has to be solved on the European level".

A number of MEPs supported his plea, namely Spanish Conservative Carmen Fraga Estévez (EPP-ED). She told the meeting that "there is no money to restructure the sector and the EU member states do not want to pay." She regretted the lack of new ideas from the Commission saying "there is nothing new about this crisis. Many proposals of the Commission actually come from the European parliament".

Crisis caused by "past policies of EU states"

Her French Green colleague Marie-Hélène Aubert has just returned from visiting several fishing communities. She said "I am happy that people are recognizing that this is not a cyclical crisis, but a structural crisis. It was created by past policies of EU member states and not just by high fuel prices". She called on fishermen to come to Brussels to have closer links with the EU institutions as "we cannot continue with a top-down approach".

As the crisis continues to grow worse we asked the Vice-Chair of the Fisheries Committee - Spanish Socialist Rosa Miguélez Ramos her views. She blamed the rise in the price of diesel by over 300% since 2003, added to the fact that the price of fish has remained unchanged for 20 years.

In terms of what can be done she referred to the earlier resolution saying that the Parliament had urged flexibility when it came to state aid and that "in July the Parliament will have the opportunity to take a decision on initial emergency measures" - referring to issues of state aid to be allowed to those in the fishing industry.

Ellen Hardy

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