Iceland offers to help EU fisheries reform

There are many good things that you can say about the EU, but the common fisheries policies has not been successful in fulfilling its objective, the Ambassador of Iceland to the EU, Mr. Thorir Ibsen told EURACTIV. He said there was "nothing wrong" that Iceland, an EU candidate, would help this reform, as it has "more experience in this field than the EU".

The diplomat said that Iceland has 300,000 people and catches 1.5 million tones of fish every year. In comparison, the EU has 500 million people and its total catch is 4 million tones.

"We have stocks that are sustainable and we have been working for years to build sustainable fisheries. Our policy has turned out to be economically effective; our fishing operations are run by businesses, they have to survive on the market and this is being matched with what fish stocks can support in terms of catches," the ambassador said.

At the same time, the EU's fisheries policy is undergoing a deep reform. According to the EU Commission, vessels are catching more fish than can be safely reproduced, thus exhausting individual fish stocks and threatening the marine ecosystem. In 2011, the Commission presented its proposals for the reform of the EU common fisheries policy and during 2012, the proposals will be discussed in the European Parliament and in the Council. The reformed common fisheries policy (CFP) will enter into force in 2013.

"There are many good things that you can say about the EU but the common fisheries policy has not been successful in fulfilling its objective and that's why it is being revisited and reformed. And therefore, it is not wrong that we offer our experience and say that we have more experience in this field than the EU," Ibsen said.

Asked to comment on a recent, rather harsh, press release published jointly a few days ago by the European Commission and Norway on mackerel fishing, in which Brussels and Oslo accuse Reykjavik of "unsustainable fishing levels", the diplomat said "more time" was needed to discuss the issue. He also insisted that it was unrelated to the accession process of his country to the EU. Asked about whaling, practised by Iceland but banned in the EU, the ambassador admitted that this was a contentious issue in the accession negotiations.

Ibsen said negotiations were "moving expeditiously", but rejected the view that his country was put in a "fast track" to accession. Instead, he said it was "a fair track", as the country has already taken on board a large part of the Union's acquis as a member of the European Economic Area and Schengen. “As a result, the whole accession process has evidently been much faster in our case than that of countries new to the integration process”, he explained.

"The process is on track, we have opened 11 chapters, one-third of all the chapters, and closed eight. And the ambition of the government is to open up the remaining chapters, if not all then almost all, no later than the June accession conference under the Danish presidency," the diplomat said.

On February 17th the Fitch rating agency upgraded Iceland to investment grade, citing the nation's progress in stabilising its economy and pushing ahead with structural reforms. The OECD's latest forecast, said that growth will be 2.4% this year, contrasting with a negative figure for the EU. While unemployment in the EU is increasing, in Iceland it will fall to 6.1% from 7% last year. Unlike nine EU countries, Iceland has opened its labour market to nationals of Bulgaria and Romania.

Asked how the country succeeded this performance, after being in technical default during the 2008-2011 crisis, the ambassador stressed, in particular, the important contribution of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

"Through determined actions of the government to rework the situation – and a change of government – we ran a fruitful cooperation with the IMF. This is normal procedure in order to have an external view of how to deal with the situation and through that we jointly established a rigorous program to stabilise the economy and build a new economic future. It’s the result of that determined effort of the government and the cooperation with the IMF," Ibsen said.

Thorir Ibsen is a career diplomat. He has served previously as his country's ambassador to France, as chief negotiator for climate change and as deputy permanent representative to NATO. He spoke to EURACTIV Senior Editor Georgi Gotev.

To read the full text of the interview, please click here.