Dear chair,

Ladies and gentlemen

Thank you for inviting me to the Executive Committee of your Advisory Council. This week is very hectic so I cannot stay for the entire meeting, but I wanted to at least be here at the opening and have this first contact. The Baltic Sea is particularly close to my heart.

 

Relations with stakeholders

I wanted to be here, because I believe it is very important to work closely with you and the other stakeholders.

You are the ones first in line to feel the impact of our policies, in the short term and in the long term. You know the local situation and the local issues. You are our boots on the ground.

The Advisory Councils play a fundamental role in the development and implementation of the common fisheries policy. The Baltic Sea Advisory Council is highly appreciated by the Commission for its recommendations and contributions to the European policy processes.

I am sure I will benefit from your expertise during my mandate.

As you know, president Von der Leyen has charged me with the environment, oceans and fisheries portfolio.

This obviously includes the common fisheries policy. By the end of 2022, we will prepare a report on the functioning of the CFP. We will assess how our policy is working. But first of all, we have to fully implement the current policy.

Many of the cornerstones of our policy, the MSY objective, the landing obligation, the multiannual plans… are only now really being implemented. We just have a new technical measures regulation and we are still revising our control system. So let the current policy first prove its merits.

And so far it seems that our approach is delivering. We see that where pressure on fish stocks decreases, fishing profits rise, sometimes to record levels.

As stocks rebuild, we can again increase the opportunities. At the last December Council, we could do that for 25 stocks.

What the evaluation should look at too, are the new challenges that fisheries is facing. And how we can take these better into account in the Common Fisheries Policy. I am talking about climate change, social standards or marine pollution. And this brings me to the specific case of the Baltic Sea.

 

Baltic Sea: exceptional measures

Fisheries management in the Baltic Sea has long been a frontrunner and an example for other sea basins. The lion’s share of catches has come from sustainable fisheries for years.

But now, the situation has deteriorated.

Several fisheries in the Baltic Sea are in a very difficult situation. You know this all too well. Still, the extent and the pace of these developments have taken many by surprise.  

Western herring will remain below the dangerous limit level at least until 2022, despite major TAC reductions. We need to rebuild this stock so that our fishermen and women can rely on it as a sustainable source of income for the future.

Eastern cod is in a particularly bad situation. Last year the full extent and the seriousness of the problem became clear.

The emergency measures in 2019, the TAC reduction and the technical measures, are unavoidably hurting our fishermen and women in the short term. I know this and I regret this. But they are indispensable. We have to do everything we can to help the Eastern Baltic cod stock recover. It would be irresponsible to continue business as usual.

This is also why the Commission proposed to amend the Baltic MAP, and why we proposed to fund the scrapping of fishing vessels that depend on Eastern Cod through the EMFF.

Our objective with that measure, which will be paid by the European taxpayer, is to bring the fleet capacity in line with the fishing opportunities, now and in the future. This measure should be part of a more comprehensive set of actions eligible for public support under the current and future EMFF.

The proposal is now in the hands of Parliament and Council. Unfortunately, the prospects of these negotiations do not look good. There is a clear risk that the issue of structural overcapacity will not be solved. I will continue to push for a long-term solution.

 

Coordination needed among policies

Coming back to the situation in the Baltic Sea, we know that the issue is unfortunately much wider than fisheries alone, and more complex. The Baltic has been a very polluted sea basin for decades, at least since the mid-70s when Baltic States established Helcom.

This situation is not caused by the fishermen. It is caused by pollution from farming, by too low levels of oxygen… But fishermen and women are the ones who pay the price. And this is a particular concern to me as the Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries.

Member States have to address the key environmental pressures in the Baltic in an integrated way, notably in the update of the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan. We have to work together, agriculture, environment, fisheries… to solve this situation and to restore marine ecosystems, in the Baltic Sea.

Therefore, I call the Member States and the ministers of Agriculture, Environment and Fisheries around the Baltic Sea to work together and to make a real improvement in the Baltic Sea cleanliness. I have an intension of visiting the Baltic Sea region in the near future in order to initiate the cooperation between different sectors for that common purpose.

 

Climate change and EU Green Deal

This coordinated way of working will become all the more important with climate change. The challenges for our oceans and seas in the coming years and decades are huge. Sea temperature is warming faster than scientists have so far predicted. The Baltic Sea will not escape the impact of climate change.

That’s why the Commission’s number one priority is the Green Deal. We have to become a climate-neutral continent by 2050. And even though the EU is not the main emitter of CO2 in the world, our role as global front-runner will be crucial. Recent events have shown that the world really needs a front-runner.

In the Green Deal, we will protect biodiversity, habitats and fragile ecosystems, on land and under water. This will help us mitigate the impact of climate change and make our environment more resilient.

We will also take further steps to become a truly circular economy.

The Green Deal will lead to a transformation. With the EMFF and other financing instruments, we will make sure that fishing and coastal communities, also in the Baltic, are well equipped to face this transition, and can turn it into opportunities.

As you can see, we will have plenty of topics to discuss over the next years and I look forward to working with you during my mandate.

Again, apologies for not being able to stay for the whole of your meeting, but I wish you a very productive session.

Thank you.

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