Lhe dossier is one of the hottest between Paris and London since Brexit. The dispute over fishing rights has been going on for months, with France threatening the UK with “litigation”. It still claims 104 licenses for French fishermen. On Saturday 11 December, the British finally decided to grant 23.
Disappointed, Hauts-de-France fishermen announced forthcoming action against imports of British products. They said they were “abandoned by the European Commission and betrayed by the British government”. At the same time, they wonder about “the relevance of Community policy, the principles of authority and respect being at the very least uncertain in the higher spheres of Brussels”, according to a press release from the regional committee for maritime fisheries and of marine farms (CRPMEM) of Hauts-de-France.
The tea towel has been burning for eleven months already
The day before, Friday, Paris had let it be known that it was expecting a “gesture of good will” from London, in order to be able to continue discussions between the two powers. Previously, he threatened to initiate proceedings against him at European level if no progress was noted during the day. “Yesterday evening, after receiving additional supporting documents from the European Commission, the United Kingdom granted 18 licenses to replacement vessels,” a British government spokesperson told Agence France-Presse. . An announcement confirmed by the Commission, which is negotiating on behalf of France.
These new boats, which take the place of boats previously fishing in British waters but which London contested the anticipation, are the main stumbling block in the discussions with Paris. “More in-depth technical work continues on seven additional requests for replacement vessels, and is expected to be concluded on Monday,” the British spokesperson added. In addition, the Anglo-Norman island of Jersey, which grants its licenses independently, approved 5 new licenses to French fishermen on Saturday, its government announced, a figure confirmed by Brussels.
In total, the island has issued 130 licenses so far. Its neighbor Guernsey, she had issued in early December forty licenses. According to the British spokesperson, these decisions “conclude the period of intensive talks” of the last few days between London and the Commission. Under the agreement signed at the end of 2020 between London and Brussels, European fishermen can continue to work in British waters provided they can prove that they were fishing there before. But, for more than eleven months, the French and the British have been arguing over the nature and extent of the supporting documents to be provided.
More than 1,000 licenses already obtained by Paris
With the 23 approvals announced on Saturday, France has so far obtained 1,027 post-Brexit fishing licenses and is therefore claiming another 81. “This decision is an important step in a long process. We are going to examine (…) the legal basis of each license request that has not yet been approved, ”European Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius said on Twitter on Saturday. In total, 83 new licenses have been granted by the British in the past two weeks, he said.
The Commission was confident on Friday about the rapid conclusion of a compromise, indicating a “mutual understanding” and recalling that 95% of license applications claimed had already received a positive response. Brussels had asked London to settle the dispute over fishing rights before Friday, December 10, Paris making this date an ultimatum. Thursday evening, the United Kingdom had sharply rejected the deadline.
If London “sticks to its position, we will ask the Commission to announce that a dispute has been initiated,” French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune, had reaffirmed on Friday. But, “if the British say we give a few dozen additional licenses as a gesture of good will (…), we will take it into account (…) and perhaps we will continue ”to dialogue, he immediately added.
The wrath of French fishermen
The French Ministry of the Sea had not reacted early Saturday afternoon to the announcement from London. Minister Annick Girardin blasted the “delaying tactics” of the United Kingdom on Thursday. What London challenges: “It is a technical procedure based on tangible elements, and not deadlines. The intense discussions over the past few days have been constructive (…), but our decisions will remain guided by the quality of the supporting documents provided, ”a British government spokesperson explained on Friday.
On the French Channel coasts, fishermen claim to have provided “all the required documents”. The tone has already been raised on several occasions: a blockade of Jersey by French fishermen last May, French threats of sanctions in October and, more recently, the blocking by French fishermen of ports and the freight terminal of the tunnel under the Handle.