Finland’s amateur fishermen were livid this week, as the European fisheries ministers decided that after January 1, 2010 the hobbyists can no longer sell their coastal water catch to a local seafood restaurant without risking as of yet unspecified penalties. The decision – the purpose of which is to limit recreational fishing where it is considered to threaten endangered fish stocks – was part of an agreement on a new control regime to prevent fishermen across the EU from landing illegal catches.
Remember that fundamental principle of EU law - subsidiarity? Over the last few years, all the hoopla about the Lisbon treaty seems to have drowned out the discussion about subsidiarity. The Europa Glossary
defines it as “the principle whereby the Union does not take action (except in the areas which fall within its exclusive competence) unless it is more effective than action taken at national, regional or local level.” The reasoning behind subsidiarity, as it turns out, rests on a solid economic foundation. According to The Economist
, one of the principal findings of Elinor Ostrom, one of the two winners of this year’s Nobel Prize for economics, is that “self-governance often worked much better [in managing common resources of local communities] than an ill-informed government taking over and imposing sometimes clumsy, and often ineffective, rules.”
Should the EU follow the thinking of the Nobel Prize winner and empower national, regional, and local communities to self-govern their common resources such as fisheries? According to Professor Ostrom, they are often better at governing their own affairs. EU-wide measures are often blunt tools - the actions that are needed to save the Mediterranean blue fin tuna stock may not work in saving the Baltic Sea salmon stock. If the EU is to avoid being an “ill-informed government taking over and imposing sometimes clumsy, and often ineffective rules,” we should first look at what the Finns, or the Danes, or the Greeks, or the Italians themselves are doing to manage their own resources in advance of making decisions at the EU level that may have unintended consequences at the national, regional, or local level.
Once the EU does decide to take action, it should be a well-informed decision maker so as to ensure that any measures that it takes are effective. As for the Finns, the nation’s largest daily, Helsingin Sanomat
, states that most of the catch of the recreational fishermen is salmon. Just in May of this year, a set of recommendations from the Baltic Sea Regional Advisory Council to the EU Commission on a salmon management plan for the Baltic Sea made it clear that there is no such plan in operation currently. If we don’t have a regional management plan for a particular natural resource, how do we know that the best way to protect the resource is to restrict its recreational use throughout the entire EU and fine grandpa in the process? Instead of issuing one-size-fits-all measures, we should follow Professor Ostrom’s thinking and preserve effective local resource governance measures – and in the absence of such measures, incentivize local communities to create and maintain their own self-governance measures for a sustainable management of local resources, ensuring that the goals are met but not necessarily by uniform means.