It’s de rigueur in some quarters to dismiss France jokingly, as the Simpsons and some US political-types famously have done in the past. But the news today from Brussels suggests that the French government have made an embarrassing volte-face on bluefin tuna.
Just two months ago, none other than President Sarkozy himself announced that France would back a ban on international trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna. This was huge news, as one of the principal fishing countries for the species, no one had thought they would take this position. This meant supporting the listing of the species under CITES, as is already the case for similarly-threatened species like rhinos, tigers, and gorillas. None of which, of course, are lucrative for big business or in high demand as delicious sushi.
France’s backing for a ban was promptly followed by the UK , Netherlands , Germany , Austria and Poland , all of them lining up to endorse the proposal by Monaco (the world’s first bluefin-free country). Amidst a flurry of media pressure, celebrity lobbying, and the influence of the End Of The Line, it seemed that bluefin had become a cause célèbre … and there was much rejoicing when the European Commission added its weight to the call for a ban just ten days ago.
So – just what has happened today? Well in order for the EU to back the proposal (and all 27 Member States would be bound by this) they needed to get a ‘qualified majority’ of 75%, effectively representing three quarters of the EU’s population. Because large and populous countries like France , Spain and Italy have voted against the proposal – there is in effect no agreement.
That means the decision will pass to Environment ministers from each of the EU member states at a later meeting, and it means that for all the press-posturing, none of the EU countries, or the EU itself, can co-sponsor Monaco ’s proposal to make a ban on the international trade in bluefin a reality.
Undoubtedly there has been fervent lobbying behind the scenes, by those with a vested interest, from the EU and beyond. And we know, too, that the ineffectual and shambolic Management Organisation ICCAT, currently tasked with looking after Atlantic bluefin, is desperate not to cede control to CITES. But we also know that others are wising up to the situation, with Mitsubishi Corporation last week reiterating its own concerns over the state of Atlantic bluefin.
So, as well as possibly being an embarrassing day to be European, today is not a good day to be a bluefin tuna – with reports surfacing just last week of the failures of enforcement and ever more illegal fishing of this beleaguered species.
As they say in France , plus ça change.