Dhe threat is clear: “If the agreement is not good and does not meet our interests, especially the interests of the fishermen, we, France, like any other member state, could veto.” This was announced by the French European Minister Clément Beaune. President Emmanuel Macron gave him the stage on the issue of access to UK waters after the end of the transition period. But the President is closely monitoring the situation. The fishermen are an important reservoir of voters in France. A million people live from the sea. Like the farmers, they stand for traditional France, which can hardly boil if it feels left out.
Every president makes a pilgrimage to Boulogne-sur-Mer, the port city on the English Channel coast. The location sees itself threatened by Brexit. Most of the fishing trawlers that rock in port fish regularly in English waters. The previous offers of the British negotiators on future fishing rights are not enough for the fishermen.
400,000 tons of fish are processed every year
Boulogne-sur-Mer already boasts on the entrance signs that it has “the largest French fishing port”. Much more important for the city of 42,000 people is the fish processing industry with more than five thousand jobs. Around 400,000 tons of fish are processed every year in the large halls that stretch along the port basin. Around thirty percent of the fish comes from Great Britain.
That is why the chairman of the regional fisheries association, Olivier Leprêtre, fears above all a hard Brexit without an agreement: “We definitely need an agreement. Without an agreement, our fishermen are in danger of catastrophe. ”He therefore only supports the threat of veto as long as it remains a negotiating instrument. The fishing industry was dependent on an agreement.
For years the rulers in Paris have feared the anger of the fishermen in Boulogne-sur-Mer. The fronde of men and women from the coast feeds Euroscepticism. The region is a stronghold of the Rassemblement National. President Nicolas Sarkozy tried to calm the protesting fishermen with right-wing national theses.
A question of identity
In 2008 he questioned the EU’s fisheries policy. “Fishing is part of the French national identity”, he said at the time and refused to let the EU and its Scientific Advisory Council decide which fish stocks need protection and how the catch quotas are distributed. “It has to end with the fact that you have scientists on one side and fishermen on the other,” said Sarkozy.
His successors, too, have always tried to calm the fishermen with subsidies. The French fishing fleet has around 8,000 ships. New cold stores have already been completed in Boulogne-sur-Mer, in which the hygiene and customs controls required for British fish will be carried out after the end of the transition period. To avoid long waiting times, the branch of the State Food Inspection Agency was expanded. But all planning does not threaten to appease fishermen’s anger if there is no agreement on fishing rights in British waters.