Fishing for political advantage... by Chris White

Is a fishing war about to break out between Britain and France? That is what the headlines seem tp suggest at the time of writing, and while things between France and Britain seem to be heading down a confrontational route with France threatening trade sanctions we have seen it all before.

The real question is what is happening to the European Union. Solidarity is failing in many directions with countries defying or challenging central governance in favour of nation state interests.

So far as fishing is concerned the UK surrendered its fishing rights when it joined the EU and its Brexit deal infuriated the public and the domestic fishing industry because it only partially recovered them at the time.

Before Britain joined the EU I was sent by the Daily Mail to Plymouth, in Devon, to cover a manic influx of French businessmen buying up all the fish in the local market. When I asked a local why his response was: “They have overfished their side of the Channel”.

Those words haunted me when the European Commission belatedly introduced a ban on herring fishing in the North Sea because of over fishing. The principal cause indicated at the time was the arrival of Spanish fishing fleets that had over fished their own waters and those off the coast of West Africa.

Right or wrong the issues raise serious questions about conservation and the health of European seas. But there is a bigger question facing Europe. The current agreement regarding fishing was made with the EU. Could the UK become involved in a similar conflictual dispute with Florida without Washington stepping in?

In Europe the EU administration is in conflict with Poland, Hungary and others.This week the European Parliament debated amendments to legislation about labour migration policy leading to vociferous objections that “there is no need for a one size fits all policy” the objectors stating that states should adopt their own policies.

As the current fisheries rights of both the EU and Britain were agreed in the Brexit deal the real question is whether France is acting alone or in collaboration with other member states through the edifice of the EU? The French state that Britain should be punished for Brexit, does that suggest that they fear other countries may follow? There are differences over the Northern Ireland protocol but the UK is in negotiation with the EU.

Europe’s history, as told in ‘The Verge’, author Patrick Wyman’s account of Europe, including England, in the late Middle Ages from 1490 to 1530 when pursuit of power, wealth and territory transformed European society is strikingly familiar with certain events of today.

Macron Angry

“Plus ca change, toujours la meme chose” is an apt expression in the light of French President Macron’s tactics. He is not really threatening war but seeking support by appealing to the latent historic anti British sentiment of the French. A classic historic tactic that goes back to the Middle Ages.

Brexit, as stated before, has created in some quarters decidedly anti British attitudes. The European Commission has given millions to compensate countries in the EU for loss of trade. The EU has lost its second biggest net contributor and that is a problem in waiting.

That the EU might be better organising a sensible free trade arrangement with the U.K. appears to be a convincing argument. Threatening a fishing war in La Manche - or The English Channel - is already convincing the English public at least that Brexit was right.

That this sort of medieval tactic should come when British troops, aircraft and airmen are stationed in several EU countries to deter aggression, not to mention Royal Navy ships in the Baltic is incredibly stupid.

The United Kingdom spends much more on defence than any other European country so what could the outcome be for NATO? At the moment that is not an issue but the British public just might take a view that would certainly not be comfortable for Europe.

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Chris White

Chris White

Chris White is a former UK national newspaper journalist and was the founder and editor of a magazine focussed on EU affairs.

Now writing for EUToday, Chris has his own column, 'Chris's Corner'.

Chris is a member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists, a professional association for journalists, the senior such body in the UK and the oldest in the world, having been founded in October 1884

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