French fisheries may be exposed in UK 'tit-for-tat' says expert
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The French President received a brutal scolding by Italian MEP Marco Zanni who warned Mr Macron is “exploiting” the issue of post-Brexit fishing licences to advance his political position in the bloc and ahead of the French presidential elections.
Mr Zanni accused the French leader of “hiding” behind the EU flag after Mr Macron demanded Brussels’ support in his war against the UK.
The Italian politician also warned Italian exporters could pay the cost of “Macron’s whims” if Brussels succumbed to the French leader’s demands and punished the UK.
He blasted: “The French president accuses the United Kingdom of implementing a ‘political choice’ in denying licence applications for fishing in the Channel, but on closer inspection it is he who is exploiting the issue, perhaps in part to ensure a less bumpy transition to the political elections in spring, and partly to assert leadership at the European level after German Chancellor Angela Merkel has finally packed her bags and left the Bundestag.
“In the agreements signed by the UK and the European Union, however, the requirements for obtaining the licence are very clear: each request can be processed only in the case in which proof of having already carried out fishing activities in the Channel that separates the continent from the Kingdom.
“The famous proverb ‘clear pacts, long friendship’ apparently does not apply to everyone. At least not for Macron, who also peremptorily stated on Friday that France will not wait for Christmas for the situation to unblock, and who defined the matrix of the problem as ‘European’ by calling into question Brussels.
“The number one of the Elysée therefore hides behind the European flag and asks for the intervention of the Commission to solve a problem to which, at national level, he is unable to give solutions. In other words, the Europeanism of individual interests, to which Berlin had already accustomed us, is now living its second youth in a French key.
“And it brings with it an unknown factor, which we hope will be averted: the worsening of relations with the United Kingdom, which should instead be considered a solid partner of Brussels both commercially and politically, and a historical ally of strategic importance above all for Italian exporters, who we hope won’t be forced to pay for Macron’s whims out of their own pockets.”
The attack comes as French fishing industry representatives signalled they could block Calais and other ports to stop exports to the UK.
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The steps would be in protest against what they say is Britain’s refusal to grant them more licences to fish in UK waters.
Talks are ongoing between Britain, France and the European Commission to settle the main source of contention, which is the number of licences to fish in waters around the British coastline for smaller French vessels which can prove they have historically operated there.
But French fishermen are “exasperated” by the “endless months of waiting” and are ready to “exert more pressure” on the UK, according to the fishing committee for the northern Hauts-de-France region.
The organisation’s president, Olivier Lepretre, said on Monday: “We will hinder English interests.
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“We also want to repeat to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson: your fishermen have access to European waters, we cannot see why we cannot access British waters – as was specified in the Brexit agreement.”
He did not specify what actions would be taken but said plans would be made by the end of the week.
The cross-Channel tensions over fishing have been long-running, with earlier rows leading to Navy ships being scrambled to Jersey amid concerns of a blockade of the island.
On Monday, France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune said all options remain on the table in the fishing row.
He said France wants a “constructive solution” over the number of licences granted to trawlers to fish in British waters, which he described as still being “not at all” satisfactory.
But he said Paris would consider taking action if the dispute is not solved, with threats including tighter checks and a ban on British trawlers landing catches in French ports.
Meanwhile, the European Commission stepped up pressure on the UK in the dispute.
Commission spokesman Tim McPhie said: “There’s been some progress with the outstanding licensing requests but the process is going too slowly.”
He added that the Commission will request an “intensification of the process within a clear timeframe”.
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