EU seeks deal over fish fleets

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The Independent Online

The European Union yesterday began talks intended to break the deadlock over the entry of Spanish and Portuguese fishermen into British waters.

The two countries want the same fishing rights as other EU nations, which were denied to them when they joined the community in 1986.

With Spain now threatening to block the entry of three new countries to the EU (Sweden, Finland and Austria), the issue has come to a head. But Britain, Ireland and France are concerned that full access for Spanish boats will cripple their fishing fleets. The key issues are over access to the "Irish Box" and the Irish Sea. Britain appears to be ready to concede the first in part, though not the second.

A German plan suggests that there should be a series of controls, including restrictions on access to some areas and allowing each country more ability to determine systems for their waters. Differences between France and Britain over controls make agreement even more difficult.

Yesterday, ministers came to no agreement, with most just reiterating existing positions. Talks resume today, with little hope of an early breakthrough.

Fisheries policy is decided by majority vote, which means Britain can be outvoted. It has already been agreed, however, that Spain and Portugal can join the Common Fisheries regime at the end of next year, which means that some sort of deal must be reached.