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Europe seeks to protect fishing from 'no deal' Brexit
[BRUSSELS] The European Union unveiled an emergency plan on Wednesday to compensate fishing crews excluded from Britain's rich waters after a feared "no deal" Brexit.
And officials said they would seek reciprocal access to British fish until the end of the year, even if London crashes out of the union with no accord on March 29.
"These contingency measures cannot mitigate the overall impact of a 'no deal' scenario," the EU Commission warned, in a statement presenting two legislative proposals.
"As a rule, they will be temporary in nature, limited in scope and adopted unilaterally by the EU."
The first initiative would, if approved by the EU parliament and member states, allow fishing operators excluded from UK waters to seek compensation from an existing fund.
The second would give the EU powers to allow the British fishing fleet access to European waters until the end of 2019 in exchange for a reciprocal promise from London.
Under this measure, fishing would continue under the quotas already agreed for the North Atlantic by European ministers - including a British one - in Brussels last month.
"We expect them to respect this decision," a Commission source told AFP, predicting London would remain cooperative until at least the end of the agreed 2019 quota period.
This, obviously, would depend on goodwill from Britain, where control of its waters post-Brexit has become an emotive issue amid the political frenzy surrounding the divorce.
If Prime Minister Theresa May fails to sell her withdrawal agreement to a sceptical British parliament, Britain will leave the EU on March 29 with no trade agreement in place.
This could cause widespread economic disruption, and fishing would be one of the sectors facing disruption.
Mrs May has repeatedly said that Brexit means Britain regaining control of its waters, while France's President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to fight for French fishermen.
In 2015, European crews caught 683,000 tonnes of fish in what will become British waters, while Britain's boats took only 110,000 tonnes from their neighbours.
This might appear to give London the upper hand, but many species and fish products from British waters are sold in the mainland European market, giving both sides a card to play.
Even if a Brexit deal is eventually ratified, the status quo will only continue for a two-year transition until the end of 2020 while a future relationship is negotiated.
And, because of the sensitivity surrounding fish, the political declaration on ambitions for the future arrangement called for a deal on fishing to be signed by July 2020.