27.10.2005   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 267/50


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Council Regulation — European Fisheries Fund

(COM(2004) 497 final — 2004/0169 (CNS))

(2005/C 267/08)

On 1 December 2004, the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 37 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the abovementioned proposal.

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 18 April 2005. The rapporteur was Mr Sarró Iparraguirre.

At its 417th plenary session held on 11 and 12 May 2005 (meeting of 11 May), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 84 votes to 1 with 5 abstentions.

1.   Introduction

1.1

On 1 January 2003 the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) entered into force. It provides for the ‘sustainable exploitation of living aquatic resources and of aquaculture in the context of sustainable development, taking account of the environmental, economic and social aspects in a balanced manner’.

1.1.1

Prior to this, on 20 December 2002, the Council of the European Union adopted Council Regulation (EC) 2371/2002 on the conservation and sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources under the Common Fisheries Policy (1).

1.2

Title II of the Treaty establishing the European Community, in particular Article 37, provides a legal basis for Community action under the Common Fisheries Policy. From its inception, this action has had a significant structural component that over the past 20 years has contributed to the modernisation of the fisheries sector as a whole.

1.3

In order to achieve the specific objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy, the Community has to ensure the long-term future of fishing activities, consistent with a sustainable exploitation of resources and a reduced environmental impact, through essential structural adjustments that strike a balance between resources and fishing capacity.

1.4

These structural adjustments are bringing about great changes in the fisheries sector and steps must be taken to preserve the fishing industry's human capital, to provide it with all the new know-how needed to contribute to the sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources and development of aquaculture, and to protect the socio-economic fabric of coastal areas by adopting accompanying measures for the regeneration of areas affected by the restructuring of the fisheries sector.

1.5

The Common Fisheries Policy and financial support for the structural reform of this policy were covered by the Multi-annual Guidance Programmes (MAGPs) until 31 December 2002, and then by the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG), which will continue until 31 December 2006.

1.5.1

The regulatory framework for all this is simplified considerably by the draft Regulation, which replaces or amends the current Regulations (EC) No 1260/1999 (2), (EC) No 1263/1999 (3), (EC) No 2792/1999 (4) and (EC) No 366/2001 (5).

2.   General comments

2.1

For the above reasons, the EESC believes this draft Regulation on the European Fisheries Fund (EFF) is necessary, since it follows on from the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG) — which under the current (EC) Regulation, will cease to apply on 31.12.2006 — by establishing a new system of financial support for the period from 1.1.2007 to 31.12.2013.

2.2

In short, the draft Regulation could be said to pursue a double objective for the EFF. Firstly, as a financial instrument forming an integral part of the CFP, it is to accompany resource management measures and help adjust production structures in order to ensure a sustainable exploitation of fishery resources and create the sustainable conditions needed from an economic, environmental and social point of view. Secondly, it is an expression of solidarity with the communities and areas engaged in fishing activities.

2.3

The EESC believes that the EFF must also place particular emphasis on achieving economic cohesion, and more specifically, promoting growth and structural adjustment in the least developed regions, based on the harmonious, balanced and sustainable development of economic activities, jobs and human resources, as well as the protection and improvement of the environment.

2.4

The Committee believes that various comments and recommendations concerning the content of the draft Regulation should be put to the Commission.

3.   Specific comments

3.1

The EFF is based on a simplified instrument with one Regulation and one Fund to cover Community assistance. The EESC believes this approach to be very appropriate, since it will undoubtedly improve the Fund's effectiveness.

3.2

For the sake of such effectiveness, the draft Regulation focuses the operational programmes on five priority axes, omitting all technical detail that could impede the monitoring and implementation of these programmes. It cuts down on the programming process, eliminating additional programmes listing the detailed measures. It simplifies the payment system, enabling Member States to be responsible for implementing the Community budget. With some exceptions, the eligibility rules are to be drawn up at national level.

3.2.1

The mere fact, as noted earlier, that this draft Regulation replaces or amends four Regulations currently in force gives an idea of its simplification of this regulatory framework.

3.2.2

The Committee approves these regulatory provisions since it believes the simplification of actions to be positive, provided the principle of subsidiarity is correctly applied, enabling Member States to decide on which concrete measures they should focus their economic effort.

3.2.3

The five priority axes set out in the draft Regulation are:

a)

Measures for the adaptation of the Community fishing fleet.

b)

Aquaculture, processing and marketing of fishery and aquaculture products.

c)

Measures of collective interest.

d)

Sustainable development of fishing coastal areas.

e)

Technical assistance.

3.3

TITLE I defines the OBJECTIVES AND GENERAL RULES ON ASSISTANCE of the draft Regulation. The Committee, whilst generally agreeing with the Commission's reasoning in Title I, wishes to make the following comments:

3.3.1

The EESC considers that Article 3 should make a clear distinction between a ‘vessel owning fisherman’ and an ‘employed fisherman’.

3.3.2

The Committee suggests an additional objective for assistance under the Fund to those already set out namely, ‘to safeguard a good quality working environment and to improve living conditions, safety and hygiene in the workplace’.

3.3.3

The EESC shares the principles of subsidiarity, shared management and equality between men and women expressed in the draft Regulation, and emphasises the need for these principles to be correctly applied, enabling Member States to decide on appropriate concrete measures.

3.3.4

As regards financial resources, the Commission proposes the commitment of EUR 4,963 million at 2004 prices, for the period of 2007 to 2013. 0.8 % of this budget is to be devoted to technical assistance, directly managed by the Commission, for a series of actions set out in the draft Regulation.

3.3.4.1

75 % of the commitment appropriations available to the CFP will be committed to the regions covered by the Convergence Objective and 25 % to other regions. As indicated in Annex I of the draft Regulation, of this 75 %, EUR 1,702 million shall be shared between the regions of those new Member States covered by the Convergence Objective and EUR 2,015 million shall be shared between the other regions thus covered. The remaining EUR 1,246 million are to be allocated to the rest of the EU's regions.

3.3.4.2

The EESC questions whether this budget will be sufficient to fulfil all the commitments made in the draft Regulation.

3.3.5

The Committee believes the apportionment criteria provided in Article 13 of the draft Regulation, regarding the distribution of funds between Member States, to be appropriate, since it proposes allocating the commitment appropriations available according to the size of the Member State's fishing sector, the scale of adjustment necessary to the fishing effort, the level of employment in the sector and the continuity of measures in hand. However, the EESC emphasises that the ‘continuity of measures in hand’ should take into account the situation of Member States that comply with Community legislation, particularly that relating to the multi-annual guidance programmes.

3.4

TITLE II ‘STRATEGIC GUIDELINES’ AND TITLE III ‘PROGRAMMING’ provide for the initial adoption of Community strategic guidelines, then the drawing-up by each Member State of both a national strategic plan for its fisheries sector, in line with the Community strategies, and, in accordance with this national strategic plan, of an operational programme for the period from 1 January 2007 until 31 December 2013. These operational programmes, which need to be in line with Community strategy, the specific objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy and other common policies, are to be drawn up in accordance with the guidelines set out in the draft Regulation and to be submitted to the Commission for approval.

3.4.1

Once approved by the Commission, the operational programmes are to be implemented and can be re-examined in the case of implementation difficulties, significant strategic changes or for reasons of sound management.

3.4.2

At all events, the Regulation provides that by 30 April 2011 each Member State is to submit a report to the Commission on the implementation of the national strategic plan, and that by 31 October 2011 the Commission is to submit a report to the European Parliament, the Council, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the implementation of the national strategic plans and the Community strategic guidelines.

3.4.3

The EESC believes the order of the draft strategic guidelines — Community strategic guidelines, then national guidelines and lastly corresponding operational guidelines — to be logical. Nevertheless, the Committee expresses its concern over whether three months will be sufficient time in which to draw up the national strategic plan, considering the scope of this plan, the difficulties caused by the participation of a ‘partner’ and the number of regions in some coastal countries.

3.5

TITLE IV outlines the co-financing of the EFF according to the five priority axes given in point 3.2.

3.5.1

Under priority axis 1, ‘Measures for the adaptation of the Community fishing fleet’, the European Commission proposes three main lines of action, taking into account Regulation (EC) No 2371/2002, based on a contribution to the financing of:

a)

Public aid for ship owners and crews affected by national plans to adjust the fishing effort, in the cases provided for.

b)

Investments on board fishing vessels of 5 years of age or more for modernisation over the main deck to improve safety on board, working conditions and product quality, provided that such modernisation does not increase the ability of the vessel to catch fish.

c)

Socio-economic compensation in support of fleet management, i.e. the promotion of multiple jobs for fishermen, professional training for other jobs and early retirement.

This line of action also provides for a contribution to the financing of training measures and incentives for young fishermen who wish to become owners of a fishing vessel for the first time.

3.5.1.1

The first line of action (point 3.5.1) for which the Commission proposes financial assistance, is public aid for ship owners and crews affected by national plans to adjust the fishing effort, where these form part of the following:

recovery plans;

emergency measures;

non-renewal of fisheries agreements with third countries;

the introduction of management plans;

national plans for exit from the fleet with a maximum duration of two years.

3.5.1.1.1

The draft Regulation stipulates in Article 24 that the duration of the national fishing effort adjustment plans shall must exceed two years.

3.5.1.1.1.1

Regulation (EC) No 2371/2002 stipulates that recovery and management plans are to be multi-annual.

3.5.1.1.1.2

The EESC believes that to stipulate that fishing effort adjustment plans do not exceed two years in duration could cause serious problems in Member States, demanding a substantial effort in a short space of time, given the multi-annual nature of the recovery plans. The Committee believes that the aid for national fishing effort adjustment plans referred to in Article 23(a) of the draft Regulation should last at least four years.

3.5.1.1.2

Under priority axis 1, the Commission proposes that the national fishing effort adjustment plans include measures for the permanent and temporary cessation of fishing activities.

3.5.1.1.2.1

The draft Regulation states that the permanent cessation of the fishing activities of a vessel may be achieved only by the scrapping of the vessel or its re-assignment for non-profit making purposes. The EESC believes that such a re-assignment should be to alternative activities, regardless of possible profit, since the Commission itself promotes certain profit-making re-assignments, to tourist fishing for example. Furthermore, the Committee believes that the concept of re-assignment could also cover the final export of fishing vessels to third countries and joint enterprises, provided that scientific reports prove the existence of surplus fish stocks that permit the development of sustainable fishing in the waters of the third countries.

3.5.1.1.2.2

The Committee maintains the view stated in its Opinion on the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (6): ‘the EESC considers that the joint enterprises are one possible instrument for reorientating the fisheries fleet and for cooperation with third countries under the Cooperation and Development Policy’.

3.5.1.1.2.3

The Committee is concerned by the criteria proposed by the European Commission in Article 25 for the setting of the level of public aid to be received by ship owners should they decide to scrap their vessels, given that the Commission is introducing variable premium values, based on the value of the ship on the national market, its insurance value, the turnover of the vessel and its age and tonnage. In the opinion of the Committee, these criteria could cause problems in the fishing sector and even discrimination depending on the value that each country attributes to vessels. It therefore calls on the Commission to seek alternative criteria that are fairer for all Member States.

3.5.1.1.3

In addition to the Fund's financial contribution to the temporary cessation of fishing activities due to fishing effort adjustment plans, the Commission's draft Regulation provides that the EFF may contribute to the financing of temporary cessation allowances to fishermen and the owners of vessels for a maximum period of six months in the event of a natural disaster or other exceptional occurrence which is not the result of resource conservation measures.

3.5.1.1.3.1

The EESC believes this provision to be vital for dealing with natural disasters or exceptional occurrences.

3.5.1.2

For fishing vessels of more than five years of age, investments on board are confined to modernisation over the main deck to improve safety on board.

3.5.1.2.1

The draft Regulation excludes co-financing for the replacement of the fishing vessel's main engine.

3.5.1.2.2

The EESC believes that, with the exception of rescue and communication systems, which are normally situated over the main deck, the vessels' safety relies largely on equipment found below the main deck.

3.5.1.2.3

Considering that the need to replace the main engine clearly affects the safety of the vessel, that this replacement does not necessarily have to increase its kWs of power and therefore that its fishing capacity does not necessarily have to be increased either, the Committee proposes that, although Regulation (EC) 2371/2002 limits modernisation to equipment found on the main deck, the Commission should consider the possibility of including the replacement of the main engine in the policy of investment on board fishing vessels, purely as a matter of safety.

3.5.1.2.4

The Committee, in making this request of the Commission, is also thinking of the long-term maintenance of the fishing fleet in the wake of the implementation of the reform of the CFP.

3.5.1.2.5

In addition to the investments in on board safety mentioned, the draft Regulation also provides for the financing of equipment that enables discards to be kept on board, that forms part of certain pilot projects or that reduces the impact of fishing on habitats and the sea bottom. The EESC agrees with these proposals.

3.5.1.3

The draft Regulation provides, and the Committee agrees, that this co-financing of equipment shall be increased by 20 % where applied to vessels that practice ‘small-scale coastal fishing’.

3.5.1.4

Finally, the EESC welcomes the socio-economic measures provided for in the draft Regulation. These are of fundamental importance to fishermen compelled to leave the fishing sector as a result of the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. However, the Committee believes these socio-economic measures should include assistance for further training and retraining of those fishermen remaining in sea fishing.

3.5.1.4.1

The Committee believes that, as well as fishermen, their fisheries associations should also be eligible for this socio-economic compensation.

3.5.1.4.2

The Committee regrets that young fishermen who wish to become owners of a fishing vessel for the first time are only eligible for financial contributions to their nautical fisheries training and not to the construction of their fishing vessel, which could be subject to various restrictions, as could the size thereof. The EESC calls on the Commission to assess this possibility.

3.5.1.5

The EESC is aware that these financial contribution lines strictly adhere to Regulation (EC) 2371/2002. However, the Committee is also aware of its obligation vis-à-vis the Member States and consequently European citizens to ensure the socio-economic quality of the Commission's proposals. Therefore, it must point out that with the measures proposed by the Commission, EU fishermen will move more quickly into other types of employment, the Community fishing fleet will be weakened and consequently, the European Union will be increasingly dependent on fish imports from third countries.

3.5.1.6

Therefore, and taking into account that fishing — one of the most dangerous occupations in Europe and the world — has the highest number of accidents at work, the Committee reiterates the content of its previous Opinions (7) on the Green Paper on the future of the Common Fisheries Policy and on the Commission Communication on the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, in which it stated that ‘fleet reduction measures should not lose sight of the need to continue to renew and modernise the Community's fleet. There should be a firm commitment to achieving high-quality conditions for processing the raw material, improving the quality of life on board, and enhancing safety for crews’. The EESC calls on the Commission to reconsider the request made in the conclusions of its Opinion on the reform of the CFP, in which it stressed that ‘Public aid should continue to be granted for the renewal and modernisation of the fishing fleet’, as long as fishery resources allow. The EESC calls on the Commission to reconsider the request made in the conclusions of its Opinion on the reform of the CFP, in which it stressed that ‘Public aid should continue to be granted for the renewal and modernisation of the fishing fleet’, as long as fishery resources allow.

3.5.2

Priority axis 2 sets out the possibility of Fund support for investments in ‘Aquaculture, processing and marketing of fishery and aquaculture products’. The draft Regulation, after clearly explaining which aquaculture, processing and marketing investments are eligible, and within these investments which measures are eligible, then restricts or reserves such aid to the investments of micro and small enterprises.

3.5.2.1

The only reason given by the Commission for this restriction is that micro and small enterprises represent 90 % of the aquaculture producing industry. The EESC believes that the principle of subsidiarity should be clearly applied to this priority. The only restriction on the financing of these projects should be that they are economically and commercially viable. This would improve the competitiveness of enterprises and should be decided upon by Member States when they draw up their national strategic plan and fix their specific objectives. The Committee believes that EFF co-financing should be directed at cost-effective enterprises, particularly micro and small enterprises that have a rigorous business plan. Only these enterprises will allow for the preservation of the economic and social fabric needed to improve living conditions and conserve the environment. Therefore, although co-financing for micro and small enterprises is given priority, the Committee requests that other types of cost-effective enterprise also be considered eligible for co-financing.

3.5.2.2

Considering that the activity of auxiliary fishing vessels supporting aquaculture does not increase the fishing effort's impact on fishery resources, the Committee believes that the draft Regulation should provide for Fund co-financing for the building of new boats such as these.

3.5.2.3

Within the eligible measures, the EESC believes that the draft Regulation should provide for the possibility of granting aid for the financing of investments aimed at improving the biological and economic efficiency of the current production systems, in order to facilitate the use of new technologies that are more environmentally friendly and cost-effective.

3.5.2.4

The draft Regulation presents an innovation regarding aquaculture that the EESC believes to be very important. This provides for the granting of economic compensation, subject to a series of conditions, for the use of aquaculture production methods helping to protect and improve the environment and conserve nature, in order to meet Community objectives relating to fishing and the environment.

3.5.2.5

However, the EESC believes that it is practically impossible to implement Article 31(4) of the draft Regulation. A Member State, when drawing up its operational programme for 2006, cannot predict losses of revenue incurred, additional costs or the need to provide financial support for carrying out the projects for each of the next seven years. Therefore, the EESC calls for the deletion of Article 31(4).

3.5.2.6

The EESC believes the Fund's contributions to public and animal health measures to be appropriate, in so much as they provide for compensations to shellfish farmers for the temporary suspension of farmed mollusc harvesting due to contamination, and for the financing of the eradication of pathological risks in aquaculture.

3.5.2.7

Similarly, the Committee believes the draft Regulation's eligible measures for investments in processing and marketing to be sufficient, provided that, as has already been stated, they are not restricted to micro and small enterprises.

3.5.2.8

The EESC believes that this priority axis should also clearly provide for financial support for fishing activities in inland or continental waters, which in some Member States of the European Union represent key fishing grounds.

3.5.3

Priority axis 3 of the draft Regulation provides for ‘measures of collective interest’. It provides that the Fund may assist collective actions of limited duration which are implemented with the active support of operators themselves or by organisations acting on behalf of producers or other organisations recognised by the Managing Authority and which help to meet the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy. However, and even though the principles for assistance provide that actions may be implemented by ‘operators themselves’, they also state that the Fund may assist collective actions of limited duration, ‘which would not normally be supported by private enterprise’. Furthermore, Annex II of the draft Regulation does not provide for the financial participation of private beneficiaries in the non-productive investments included in ‘Group 1’, which covers all those investments found in priority axis 3. Therefore, the Committee requests that the Fund may assist collective actions of limited duration called for by private businesses.

3.5.3.1

The Committee welcomes the Fund support for ‘collective actions’ proposed in Article 36 of the EFF. The four wide-ranging lines of action allow for the selection of important objectives for the fisheries sector and for aquaculture.

3.5.3.2

With regard to the ‘Measures intended to protect and develop aquatic fauna’ in Article 37, the EESC is concerned that these are of a purely engineering nature, such as the installation of static or mobile installations intended to protect and develop aquatic fauna or to rehabilitate inland waterways including spawning grounds and migration routes for migratory species. No mention is made of the need for a scientific follow-up and direct restocking is excluded. The EESC calls for Fund assistance for this type of action to specifically require a scientific follow-up and to take account of the need for support for the restocking of certain migratory species. Furthermore, it calls for interested private bodies who could meet the specified objectives to be included in the list of organisations that may implement this type of action.

3.5.3.3

Cofinancing for investments in ‘Fishing ports’ is clearly described. The EESC believes that another line of action, providing for the establishment and upkeep of hostels for EU fishermen returning from sea and not resident in their docking place, should be added to the five lines of action set out.

3.5.3.4

The approach to ‘Promotion and development of new markets’ can count on the EESC's backing since EFF support is mainly concentrated on collective actions intended to, inter alia, use surplus or underexploited species, improve product quality, promote products obtained using methods with low impact on the environment and to improve the image of the fisheries sector through campaigns.

3.5.3.5

With regard to the ‘Pilot projects’ of Article 40, the EESC believes that a paragraph providing for the possibility of funding exploratory fishing pilot projects should be included, provided their aim is the conservation of fishery resources and they involve more selective techniques, as set out in the current FIFG.

3.5.3.6

In this axis, the EESC believes that the European Commission should also incorporate measures needed to improve scientific advice as proposed in its Communication on Improving scientific and technical advice for Community fisheries management  (8). With this in mind, the Committee believes that research voyages at sea, socio-economic studies on the impact of the drastic measures taken to recover stocks, a scientific assessment of the sector, and the work of the Regional Advisory Councils should all be funded. Scientists should be funded in the same way as members of the Councils.

3.5.3.7

Furthermore, the Committee believes that aid for the establishment and functioning of producer organisations should be continued, as in the current FIFG.

3.5.4

The scope of assistance of priority axis 4 ‘Sustainable development of coastal fishing areas’, states that the Fund shall provide assistance, in addition to the other Community instruments, for the sustainable development and improvement of the quality of life of eligible coastal fishing areas. It goes on to clarify that this assistance is part of an overall strategy, which seeks to support the implementation of the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy, in particular taking account of its socio-economic consequences.

3.5.4.1

The majority of the measures under this priority axis are designed to regenerate those coastal areas dependent on fishing, given that their development cannot continue to be connected to fishing activities. The EESC believes that the measures for the sustainable development of these areas, intended to promote alternative activities to fishing, should be preceded by a well-grounded scientific analysis carried out in collaboration with both scientists and the fishing sector in the affected area.

3.5.4.2

The draft Regulation establishes that each Member State ‘shall include in its operational programme a list of the areas eligible for support from the Fund under sustainable development of coastal areas.’

3.5.4.3

In principle, this approach fits in with the concept of subsidiarity, which is continually invoked by the Commission as a vital element in the correct implementation of the draft Regulation. However, the Commission itself weakens this when it specifies that Member States must define their eligible areas according to various parameters, some of which are not at all realistic, particularly that stipulating that they must have less than 100 000 inhabitants. Therefore, the EESC calls for this requirement to be deleted from the parameters defining the eligible areas.

3.5.4.4

On this issue, the Committee believes that once the eligible measures are set by the Commission, the application of the principle of subsidiarity is vital. The EESC calls on the Commission to grant the Member States the right in the draft Regulation to establish a list of eligible coastal areas according to their own criteria.

3.5.4.5

Finally, this priority axis provides that actions to assist the sustainable development of coastal fishing areas is to be implemented on a given territory by a group of local public or private partners, called the ‘coastal action group’ (CAG).

3.5.4.6

The CAGs are to manage the aid, adhering to various rules of operation that ensure administrative and financial capacity and hence guarantee with total transparency the successful completion of the planned operations.

3.5.4.7

The EESC advises that the composition of the CAGs be subject to prior recognition by the social partners.

3.5.5

Provisions for EFF assistance are concluded in Priority axis 5 ‘Technical assistance’. This priority axis, at the initiative of and/or on behalf of the Commission, is to finance the measures to be carried out by the Commission for the preparation, monitoring, administrative and technical support, evaluation, audit and inspection of the EFF, and such measures may be proposed by the Member States in their operational programmes for the same purpose.

3.5.5.1

The draft Regulation limits the budget for technical assistance to 0.8 % of its annual allocation and the support for Member States to 5 % of the amount of each operational programme.

3.5.5.2

The Committee approves the proposed eligible actions and the limits of funding.

4.   General comments

4.1

The draft Regulation presents a series of general provisions on the ‘Effectiveness of and publicity for assistance’, the ‘Financial contribution by the Fund’, ‘Management, monitoring and controls’, ‘Financial management’ and the ‘European Fisheries Fund Committee’.

4.1.1

The Committee agrees with all these provisions, since they ensure proper operation, management, monitoring and transparency of the Fund.

5.   Conclusions

5.1

The draft Regulation on the EFF constitutes a financial instrument that will accompany resource management measures and adjust the sector's production structures in line with the Common Fisheries Policy. Therefore, the proposal presented by the Commission basically has the support of the European Economic and Social Committee.

5.2

The Committee approves the Regulation's period of implementation, from 1 January 2007 to 31 December 2013, and its review by the Council before the end of this period.

5.3

Furthermore, the Committee believes that the objectives and general rules on assistance laid down are highly appropriate, although it urges the Commission to extend the principle of subsidiarity as much as possible, giving Member States the authority to decide on the concrete measures on which their economic effort should focus. The Committee also suggests an additional objective for assistance under the Fund to those already set out, namely ‘to safeguard a good quality working environment and to improve living conditions, safety and hygiene in the workplace’.

5.4

The Committee believes the period of three months given to draw up the national strategic plan is too tight, considering the scope of this plan, the difficulties caused by the participation of a ‘partner’ and the number of regions in some coastal countries.

5.5

With regard to priority axis 1 ‘Measures for the adaptation of the Community fishing fleet’, the measures being adopted by the Fund are as a result of the text approved by the Council in the reform of the CFP. Nevertheless, the Committee believes that the European Union should continue to maintain an operational and competitive fishing fleet both inside and outside its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and that this is the Commission's responsibility. Therefore, the EESC calls on the Commission to consider the following improvements to priority axis 1:

Funding for the national fishing effort adjustment plans should last for at least four years.

Aid for the permanent cessation of fishing activities should cover not only the scrapping of vessels but also their re-assignment to other purposes than fishing and their export to third countries and joint enterprises.

The use of fairer criteria to calculate the level of public aid applicable to scrapping.

For safety reasons, to include replacement of the main engine as one of the investments on board fishing vessels eligible for funding.

These socio-economic measures should include assistance for further training and retraining of those fishermen remaining in sea fishing.

Maintenance of an operational fishing fleet through the renovation and modernisation of fishing vessels as long as fishery resources allow.

5.6

As regards priority axis 2 ‘Aquaculture, processing and marketing of fishery and aquaculture products’, the EESC believes that the subsidiarity criterion should be incorporated into its implementation, giving Member States the authority to decide on the most appropriate application of the Fund's economic contribution, giving priority to investments presented by micro and small enterprises. The only restriction on this should be that the projects presented must be economically and commercially viable, to improve the competitiveness of businesses.

5.7

With regard to priority axis 3 ‘Measures of collective interest’, the Committee calls for the Fund to finance collective actions of limited duration proposed by private businesses, and investments necessary to improve scientific and technical advice on Community fisheries management.

5.8

Priority axis 4 ‘Sustainable development of coastal fishing areas’, limits eligible areas to those of less than 100 000 inhabitants. The Committee believes that this requirement should be deleted and the principle of subsidiarity applied, recognising each Member State's right to establish the list of eligible coastal areas according to their own criteria.

5.9

The Committee welcomes priority axis 5 ‘Technical assistance’, believing the proposed eligible actions and funding limits to be appropriate.

5.10

The EESC believes that the EFF should also clearly provide for financial support for fishing activities in inland or continental waters, which in some Member States of the European Union represent key fishing grounds. The Committee recommends that the word ‘lakes’ is replaced by the words ‘inland waters’ in Chapter II, Article 4 point (e) and in any other article of the Proposal for a Council Regulation.

5.11

The EESC gives its full support to the Fund's management, control and monitoring systems, believing them to be highly appropriate and necessary to the effectiveness of the EFF.

5.12

For all the above reasons, the European Economic and Social Committee endorses the draft Regulation on the EFF presented by the Commission, but calls on the Commission to take into account the comments set out in this opinion.

Brussels, 11 May 2005.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  OJ L 358 of 31.12.2002

(2)  OJ L 161 of 26.6.1999

(3)  OJ L 161 of 26.6.1999

(4)  OJ L 337 of 30.12.1999

(5)  OJ L 55 of 24.2.2001

(6)  OJ C 85 of 8.4.2003

(7)  CESE 1369/2002 (OJ C 85 of 8.4.2003) and CESE 1315/2001 (OJ C 36 of 8.2.2002)

(8)  DO C 47 of 27.2.2003