posted on Jul, 29 2005 @ 05:27 AM
British fishermen have been crippled by sticking to rules that other states break
FRANCE has been fined the largest amount imposed by the highest court of the European Union for flouting EU fisheries law over 20 years on a scale
that posed a serious threat to fish stocks.
Paris was fined €20 million (£13.75 million) by the European Court of Justice yesterday after it found the French Government guilty of allowing
fishermen to catch and sell small, immature fish in defiance of EU efforts to conserve fish stocks.
From The Times -
Citing the duration and seriousness of the offences, the court also imposed a recurring fine of €57.8 million every six months until France complies
with Union policy.
The court considered this to be one of the most serious breaches of European law because France shrugged off two decades of inspections, warning
letters, legal threats and court action by the European Commission, which upholds EU policy.
France, one of the most frequent transgressors of Union law, had already been found guilty of the same offence by the court in 1991 but largely
ignored the judgment.
The court has never previously imposed a lump sum fine on any country, and never before has it had to take action to force an EU member state to
comply with an earlier judgment. It said in a statement: “The persistence . . . of a practice of offering undersize fish for sale and the absence of
effective action by the national authorities are such as to prejudice seriously the Community objectives of conserving and managing fishery
The European Commission said that the sentence should serve as a warning to other countries: “Today’s court ruling sends a strong signal to member
states that may be tempted to persistently ignore community law that they have to be prepared to pay a heavy price.”
The judgment comes at a time when British fleets have been crippled by tough EU fishing restrictions, with British fishermen complaining that they
suffer disproportionately because other countries break the rules. Their number has fallen from 16,000 ten years ago to fewer than 10,000, while the
number of boats longer than 10m has slumped from 5,000 to 1,200.
Struan Stevenson, the Conservative fisheries spokesman in the European Parliament, expressed relief that the court had taken action against a country
he described as a serial offender. He said: “Anyone involved in illegal fishing is stealing from other fishermen and devastating stocks. We are
driving our children and grandchildren out of the industry.”
Barrie Deas, the chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, said: “The ruling was inevitable. The sale of
(undersize) fish on the market was clear to everyone for many years. If we have a common fisheries policy with common rules, they must be adhered to,
otherwise it won’t work.”
Protecting immature fish so they can reproduce is essential for conserving stocks, but small fish are prized in French cuisine. French fishermen catch
them using illegal fine-mesh nets and sell them under names such as friture de merluchons, meaning small hake. The French Government is required to
stop the practice but has persistently failed to monitor infringements or impose significant fines on offending fishermen. European investigators
recently found juvenile fish being openly auctioned in all six French ports inspected, sometimes in the presence of French government inspectors.
The unprecedented fine is yet another embarrassment for President Chirac, who has tried to position himself as the real champion of the EU after his
country rejected the European constitution in a referendum in May.
He has accused Britain of undermining European solidarity by insisting that it would accept cuts to its EU rebate only if France accepted cuts to the
Common Agricultural Policy.
However, France has an almost unrivalled record of contempt for EU law. In the past five years it has been hauled before the European Court of
Justice 112 times, more than any other country apart from Italy (114 times), and more than twice as often as Britain (50).
After the “mad cow” disease scare, France continued its ban on British beef in defiance of EU law. When it broke the government borrowing
limits of the stability pact, which underpins the euro, it angered other countries by insisting on rewriting the treaty rather than complying.
www.timesonline.co.uk . . .