Warning shot. To protest against the UK’s refusal to grant them a number of fishing licenses, still on borrowed time since Brexit came into force on 1er January, French fishermen plan to block the ports of Ouistreham, Saint-Malo, Calais and the Channel Tunnel for a few hours on Friday, November 26.
→ EXPLANATION. Fishing: dialogue of the deaf between France and Great Britain
Movement is a response to attitude “Provocative” and “Humiliating” of the British, in the words of Gérard Romiti, president of the National Fisheries Committee. But also an appeal launched to the European Commission so that it shows itself more firmly in this file. Because if the European executive supervises the negotiations, the standoff is mainly played out between London and Paris.
The post-Brexit agreement provides that Europeans can continue to fish in British territorial waters, subject to obtaining a license. A little less than a thousand have been granted since the beginning of the year for the French fleet. But discussions are skidding on 150 remaining licenses, still claimed by France, for access to waters between 6 and 12 miles from the British coast, and those located near Jersey and Guernsey.
To obtain sesame, it is necessary to prove the fishing history of the boat using traceability data. Easy for vessels with GPS traceability. More laborious for smaller boats less technically equipped.
The situation is particularly stuck in Jersey, whose administration questionsthe quality of the evidence provided by the French. “It’s definitely obvious that Jersey is breaking the Brexit deal “, Accused the Minister of the Sea, Annick Girardin, on November 18. France accuses him of being overzealous about the extent of the supporting documents requested.
“Complex legal situation”
“From a legal point of view, the situation is more complex than that presented by the French government, nuance Aurélien Antoine, professor of public law at Jean-Monnet University (Saint-Étienne) and founder of the Brexit Observatory. The British have the right to demand proof of actual fishing. It is tragic for fishermen, but perhaps the government should have anticipated these difficulties sooner as well. “
→ ANALYSIS. Post-Brexit fishing: how the issue of “fleet exits” ignited the debate
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman says his country is implementing “Quite simply the rules as they were accepted in the trade and cooperation agreement”. But the British position seems to have softened over the discussions.
According to a diplomat involved in the negotiations, interviewed earlier this month by The cross, the British authorities “Accept something other than GPS data, which some small boats may not have, such as logbooks or catch logs”. In his eyes, if fishermen fail to provide the slightest proof, “Is that it is probable that they never existed, even if they may also have been lost”.
Added to this is the thorny problem of vessels replacing vessels already fishing in British waters.
Interpretations diverge on the perimeter of the conditions to be fulfilled: when London, for example, requires continuity of ownership, France is pushing to include those who have changed hands as well. In Hauts-de-France, the problem concerns 40 of the 53 blocked files. The tone has continued to rise between the two countries. At the end of October, Paris confronted London with an ultimatum by promising retaliatory measures, before backing down to make way for negotiations, still ongoing.
The case experienced a new twist last week. In her speech of November 18, an evocation by Annick Girardin of funding for “Fleet exit plans” – the end of activity for boats that would find themselves deprived of any fishing solution – sparked an outcry among fishermen. The device had already been mentioned on several occasions by the ministry, and is also requested by part of the profession. But his return to the table in this tense period has raised fears that the government is preparing the ground to abandon the negotiations.
→ READ. Conflict over fishing: France evokes compensation for unlicensed vessels, a “fiasco” for fishermen
Since then, political announcements have multiplied to reassure the profession. The President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, himself assured that France “Will not let the fishermen down”. He assured that if “The European Commission is not playing its role, France will”. On Wednesday 24 November, a Commission spokesperson assured that the Fisheries Commissioner, Virginijus Sinkevičius had asked his British counterpart for a settlement of the dispute before 10 December.
Presidential election on the way
In the eyes of the press and most British politicians, the French escalation is above all directly linked to the impending presidential election in France. His future being uncertain, the occupant of the Elysee Emmanuel Macron cannot risk seeing newspaper headlines accusing him of not protecting French fishermen.