Mr Vella’s job interview

If you missed Monday 29 September’s European Parliamentary’s confirmation hearings of Malta’s Karmenu Vella I wanted to provide a recap.

He’s been given the reponsibiltiy for both the  Environment agenda and  Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.  A mamouth task made only easier by a seemingly clear signal from the new Commission to do little new on the environmental agenda.

There is little doubt that the grand coalition of the EPP and S&D will confirm Mr Vella.

You can watch Mr Vella’s light cross-examination by MEPs here.

He ended:




–          In his first ten minutes, Vella stated policy-makers had to be business-friendly. He is keen to meet, listen and learn. He acknowledged (some would say he was playing it safe), that his portfolio is broad and that there was a lot he needed to learn about.

–          He also said environmentalists, corporations and policy-makers had to work together to come to solutions

–          Against expectations, no questions were asked about his past relationships with industry

–          Having a combined portfolio merging environment and fisheries is not contradictory. On the opposite, he claims it will make both areas much stronger, combining blue and green growths

–          Vella wants the EU to continue to be and further develop as an international superpower on Sustainable Development Goals


–          Environment mainstreamed into all EU policies

o   To reassure MEPs about his role, his broad portfolio and the way Juncker has envisaged the constitution of this new College, Vella called throughout his hearing for the continued mainstreaming of the environment into all EU policies

o   Even if environment and sustainability might not be spelled out in every single mission letters to the Commissioner Designates, it is built into the Treaty and therefore a corner stone of all EU policies and initiatives. he claimed it was “everybody’s responsibility”.

–          Implementation of EU regulation

o   At several occasions, Commissioner designate Vella was questioned about the poor implementation of EU laws (e.g. Karl Heinz Florenz)

o   This issue was also raised in the context of Malta’s own practices. After responding a few times that he was not a Maltese Commissioner but a European Commissioner, and stating that he was well aware of Malta’s issues from his time as Minister for Tourism, he eventually shared with MEPs the number of infringement for the non-respect of EU environmental legislation against Malta compared to other Member States.

o   Implementation, enforcement, and taking stock of existing laws will be a key aspect of his responsibilities: “no abuse will be tolerated”. “If Member States do not respect rules, there are two options: shame them or help them”.

–          On shale gas, he stressed that it was up to Member States to decide on their energy mix. Member States need to make sure that shale gas is done in the proper way. Before going forward with any specific proposal or action, he prefers to wait and see how Member States are implementing the existing initiatives.

–          He will work to continue to implement REACH and thought it was a success with 1,000 substances being evaluated.

–          In relation to two questions about endocrine disruptors (Dutch Bas Eickhout and Swedish Jytte Guteland) he seemed to state that this file was now under the management of the Health Commissioner.

–          On bees he considered that it was not just chemicals that are killing bees but also monoculture. If confirmed, he will closely work with the Commissioner in charge of Health on this dossier.

–          Although less detailed in answering with specifics, he re-enforced his support for the circular economy, the waste package and air pollution.



–          Coming from Malta and a fishing village, these issues are very close to his heart

–          The implementation of the CFP reform is key and much effort will be dedicated to maintaining momentum:

o   Regionalisation is a key tool to guarantee success

o   Although difficult to implement, the discard ban needs to be put in place and to deliver

o   The fight against IUU will continue. IUU are threatening our stocks and our fishermen. All illegal fishing or hunting (he was referring to birds protection in Europe and in Malta) will be punished.

–          At the international level, he called for better governance of fisheries to preserve fishing stocks. The absence of respect of these rules will call for penalisation of countries

–          Dutch MEP Bas Eickhout asked how he would deal with ENVI and PECH not agreeing on key issues, like in the past. Vella’s answer was far from clear…



How to Scuttle Overfishing? Tax the Catch

A friend recently gave me  a book of Gary S Becker “the Economics of Life”.

They are a collection of his articles in Business Week.

The late Professor Becker, a Noble Prize winner for Economics, nearly turned down the opportunity to write the column for Businessweek. I am glad he did not.

I’ve been working on fisheries for a long time and most of the solutions I read  about, from quota management, effort management to MSY and MEY, all lack a certain clarity and simplicity  to them.

Professor Becker offers an alternative. Taxation. In this article he offered a simple and seemingly very practical way to  address overfishing.

Why not just tax the amount of fish caught.

Small and young fish can be taxed very severely. Fishermen would likely  change their fishing habits as soon as it cost them too much to catch the fish with heavy taxes on their catch.

The size of the tax would control the total catch. Fishing is going to decrease when the tax rate is higher.

Tax rates could vary depending on the season, such as spawning season, and reflecting the amount of fish caught to date. Fishermen are less likely to go out fishing and risk overfishing when the tax on that catch could be made very expensive.

It has the advantage that it does not discriminate. Recreational and commercial fishermen all catch fish and for each fish they catch they can pay.

The system is no more complex than today’s quota system in monitoring. The technology is there to make this effective. CCTV would, like with truck drivers, help ensure compliance.

And, tax authorities have usually been tough on enforcement.

Fortunately, there is nothing to stop any government in Europe trying this out.

Horoscopes for Commissioners

The real question on everyone lips is how Jonathan Cainer will be able to guide the Commissioner-designates in their hearings.


I spent a few minutes looking at the Commissioners-designate and listed their star signs.

If Monday will be a good day for Mr Vella during his hearing, please  check out


Johannes Hahn                        Sagittarius

Marianne Thyssen                   Leo

Kristalina Georgieva               Leo

Neven Mimica                         Libra

Christos Stylianides              Cancer

Věra Jourová                         Leo

Margerethe Vestager         Aries

Andrus Ansip                      Libra

Jyrki Katainen                    Libra

Pierre Moscovici              Virgo

Günther Oettinger           Libra

Dimitris Avramopoulos  Gemini

Tibor Navracsics              Gemini

Phil Hogan                        Cancer

Federica Mogherini       Gemini

Valdis Dombrovskis      Leo

Vytenis Andriukaitis    Leo

JeanClaude Juncker  Sagittarius

Karmenu Vella             Gemini

Elzbieta Bienskowska   Aquarius

Carlos Moedas            Leo

Corina Creţu               Cancer

Maroš Šefčovič          Leo

Alenka Bratušek      Aries

Miguel Arias Cañete Pisces 

Cecilia Malmström   Taurus

Frans Timmermans  Taurus

Jonathan Hill            Leo





pay back rules for over catching your quota – should we suspend them?

Europe has some simple and very effective rules to deal with overfishing If you catch too many one year, that is over and above the amount you were allowed to under your quota, you will have the amount deducted from next year’s quota. And, if you have been very reckless and caught really a very large amount above what you were allowed to, the Commission will deduct it from your quota over a few years.

So, I was interested to see this Parliamentary Question  from the Spanish Social Democrat José Blanco López .

I had to read it a few times.

It seems to be saying. that the Galacian fleet is doign a far better job in overfishing than it used to. It’s still overfishing, but a lot less than it used to, so could the Euroepan Commission be less tough in applying the law.

Now, the rule of law sometimes seems an alien concept for those working at sea. But, the pay back rules have been applied for several years. The rule was applied in a bag way against the French, Spanish and Italian Blue Fin Tuna fleet a few years back. They had problems about landing the correct quota.

The UK and Irish  Government who had voluntarily disclosed the overfishing of their own fleets a few years earlier and had asked for the pay back rules to be applied thought that the rule of law should apply. After a tense fisheries council down in Luxembourg the rules were applied.
Fishermen can catch over their quota. It’s just next year they need to pay back all the catch. Of course, the alternative would be stop fishing when they reached their quota!

Why this should be varied is not clear from the Question.




Parliamentary questions 2 September 2014 E-006474-14

Question for written answer to the Commission Rule 130 José Blanco López (S&D)

Subject: Quota deductions due to overfishing

On 11 August 2014, the Commission published the quota deductions applicable to those Member States which had declared having exceeded their 2013 fishing quotas

. These deductions are down by 22% compared with last year, which has given the Commission cause to note that ‘we did a better job in 2013 than in previous years’.

In the case of Spain, the fishing sector’s commitment to staying within its quotas and to efficient and sustainable fisheries management has led to a reduction in overfishing, as shown by the fact that the country’s quota deductions for 2014 have been reduced by more than the EU average.

In light of this and the limited fishing opportunities and current difficulties faced by the fishing sector, could the Commission consider smaller quota deductions or measures to alleviate these, given the situation faced by the sector and the impact which a reduction in fishing opportunities may have on employment and the viability of fishing activity in regions particularly dependent on fishing, such as Galicia?