In the initial negotiations for membership no mention was made of a common fisheries policy for the simple reason it didn’t exist. Nor did any equivalent legislation exist. But in the months preceding the membership applications, lawyers at the Council of Ministers were instructed to search for a legal basis in the Treaty of Rome for giving equal access rights to these waters to all member states.
The council’s lawyers made no less than six attempts to find a legal basis for such a policy in the articles of the treaty. Despite their lack of success, and the absence of any legal foundation, a regulation was drafted defining the ‘equal access’ principle, which was made a condition for entry into the then EEC.
This gave equal access to all member states right up to the beaches. Ironically, during the same period, a UN conference had extended national control of fisheries to 200 miles, which meant that Britain and Ireland controlled 85% of Europe’s fishery waters.
But they were tricked into surrendering their access to their own waters by unscrupulous interests within the community who saw the members’ applications as an opportunity to replenish the dwindling fishing stocks of France, Holland, Belgium and Germany.
It must be repeated that there was no legal foundation or requirement in the Treaty of Rome for the surrender of our fishery waters. The extent to which Britain and Ireland were exploited by deceitful political and legal manoevrings only became apparent when confidential files were released by the British Foreign Office in 2000. Perhaps French President Nicolas Sarkozy might consider beginning his renegotiation of the Lisbon Treaty by implementing a legal provision to reverse this injustice.