Most folks have never encountered a Groundhog, but they know about Groundhog Day. Groundhogs, woodchucks or whistlepigs are common across North America. ‘Groundhog Day’ on the other hand was a film released in 1993 in which Bill Murray portrays a world-weary weatherman forced by some quirk of fate to relive the same day over and over again. The day in question is February 2nd - Groundhog Day - when according to folklore should a groundhog sees its shadow, there will be six long weeks of winter ahead.
The 17 of November was Groundhog Day for the Fisheries Committee. Sitting in a trialogue discussion on deep water fisheries, MEPs were condemned to relive the same arguments over and over and over again.
Before I delve into the repetitive woes of that day, it is perhaps worth explaining exactly what is a trialogue. As draft EU legislation approaches its conclusion, the MEPs (‘rapportuers' in the jargon) sit together with representatives of the Council of Ministers - under the chairmanship of the European Commission (hence ‘tri’) and try to find consensus. Out of this dialogue emerges, fully formed, the law. Often as not on fisheries matters, I represent my political party in these negotiations.
Last week’s trialogue was focused upon the proposed regulation of deep sea fisheries. Back in 2013 the European Commission published a proposal to ban deep water fisheries outright. Shocked by the proposal, the Parliament ultimately rejected the idea in a fraught vote just before Christmas 2013. The Council has taken a more ‘middle-of-the-water’ approach.
Setting aside some of the minor aspects of the proposal (plenty of time for them at the next trialogue; and believe me there will be a next trialogue), there was only one issue on the table: at what depth should a ban kick in? The Council take the view that it should be 800m, not a metre more and not a metre less.
It was upon this point, that the trialogue took an unexpected twist. After the pleasantries and niceties from either side that always accompany such negotiations, the lead rapportuer asked a simple question, ‘How did the Council come to its depth limit?’ Silence. The Council were obviously not expecting the ‘daft laddie’ question, for answer came there none.
For MEPs of all parties, it was enough to secure a unanimous position, something sadly lacking from the previous hour of ‘interesting’ discussion. If you haven’t got the data to back up the limit, you don’t got a limit. And so the meeting broke, bamboozled by the Council's quixotic depth choice.
Don’t worry though, just as in Groundhog Day, we get to do the whole things again next week.