EU Teaches West Africa how to Cheat, Plunder, Bully and Fish Unsustainably

If ever you doubted that putting the European Union in charge of environmental issues is a bit like inviting the Taliban to run Miss World, consider this story by Richard North about the characteristic blend of bullying, incompetence, corruption, greed, high-handedness, dishonesty and ineffectuality with which the EU is policing the fishing grounds of West Africa.

You'd think after the mess the EU had made in the waters of the North Sea and the Mediterranean, where some species have been overfished beyond the point of recovery, that the very last thing any African nation would want is to have it in charge of their fishing territory. Yet this, bizarrely, is what has been allowed to happen in the once-fish-rich waters of West Africa, now being plundered under licence by the vast factory trawlers of the EU member states. (The Dutch are the worst apparently). In return for hundreds of millions of Euros (Mauritania alone has received nearly 500 million in the last ten years), the EU's subsidised fleets get to fish like they did in the good old days before the supplies round Europe's coastlines ran out.

There may be nothing wrong with such licensing deals in principle. The problem, as North notes, is the overwhelming hypocrisy of it all. On the one hand, the EU is acting as a predatory exploiter. On the other, it has taken on the role of the region's environmental policeman, high handedly declaring - often, it seems, on a random basis - which rival countries are allowed to fish there and which ones aren't.

Latest victim of this is South Korea. At the end of this month it is going to be designated by the EU an IUU - an Illegal, Unreported and Undocumented fishing country - because some of its vessels have been fishing illegally in West African waters. No doubt one or two of them have. But so, North reports, have much larger Chinese and Russian fleets - without any complaints from the EU's monitors (a supposedly independent green NGO called the Environmental Justice Foundation which depends almost entirely for its funding from the EU) let alone any threat of a ban. So too have some EU vessels - but the EU is hardly like to want to draw attention to overfishing by its own member states. Could it be, perhaps, because China and Russia are too big for the EU to take on but that South Korea is just the right size and sufficiently far off for the EU to feel it can bully it with impunity?

So, next month, at the stroke of a Eurocrat's pen, South Korea will be declared IUU and banned from selling any of its fisheries products to the EU - costing it perhaps £75 million annually in lost business. Yes, it's mainly South Korea's problem but it should be a concern to everyone. In the last six years, EU taxpayers have spent Euros 4.3 billion subsidising this Mafia-style fisheries racket. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad if the EU were upfront about it: "Yes. Our plan is to be like the Chinese in Africa: grabbing what we can, while we can - and so everyone else." But they're not, are they? Their whole raison d'etre - so they keep reassuring us - is to make the world more just and eco-friendly and sustainable and renewable.

It's one of the reasons we're supposed to go believing in the European Project: that it's able to punch above the weight of individual member states on the global stage and really make a difference in a way no sovereign nation could. Well I don't know about you, but I think the policing of West Africa's fishing waters would be far better left in the locals. After all, when it comes to corruption, incompetence and waste, small time players like Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone could never begin to compete with the real experts in the European Union.


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