The French government is asking its fishing industry to be prepared for a smaller catch after Brexit, said a report published by the news agency Reuters quoting sources form the industry. This is a clear signal that the French President Emmanuel Macron is preparing the grounds for striking a delicate compromise that can allow the United Kingdom and the European Union strike a post-Brexit trade deal.
With the target of avoiding damaging $900 billion in annual trade when the UK leaves the bloc’s single market economy on January 1, 2021, the EU and the UK are trying to strike an agreement over the next three weeks.
One of the biggest sticking elements that is preventing the deal is fisheries.
A hard line on the fisheries issue has been publicly taken by Macron. He has said previously that any Brexit pact that “sacrifices our fishermen” will not be accepted by France. Demand of London for a system of annual negotiations on fish quotas in British waters was rejected by Macron arguing that the proposal will damage the EU industry.
The first signs of a softening stand of the French President on the issue was however evident after Macron said that after year-end, the French industry will no longer be in the same situation. He said this at a summit of EU national leaders dedicated to Brexit last week.
According to the Reuters report, the French government has gone further in private and has reportedly bluntly told France’s politically influential fishing industry to get ready of an impact on their catch.
In addition to 10,000 fish processing jobs, there are 20,000 fishermen in France. About 98,000 tonnes of fish were caught in British waters on average in 2011-2015 which was equivalent to 171 million euros in turnover and 2,566 direct jobs.
According to a French parliamentary report, one forth of France’s catch of fish in the northeastern Atlantic was in British waters.
Pictures from a visit to the French coastal town of Port-en-Bessin were posted by Macron’s Europe minister even as the EU summit was convening in Brussels last week.
“One single objective: to defend and protect the interests of fishermen,” Clement Beaune said on Twitter. “We’re fighting… for French fishing.”
When asked off-camera if France would yield, the minister’s message was starker, said Jerome Vicquelin, a member of local fishing lobby groups who attended the meeting, claimed media reports.
“I was rather blunt and said: ‘It’s all well and good you came, but I’m worried because… just a 10-15% cut in turnover… would be a disaster over the long term,” Vicquelin said he told the Paris envoys in the wheelhouse of fishing boat aptly called L’Europe.
“They were blunt too. They said it won’t be the same as before. For me it’s clear, they just want to try to limit damages as much as possible,” Vicquelin told Reuters.
He had told the industry representatives to no longer expect to maintain “the status quo”, Beaune told Reuters when asked to comment on Vicquelin’s account of the meeting.
(Adapted from Reuters.com)