Sweden’s defender of fish reels in historic deal

Isabella Lövin, an environmental reporter turned Green Party MEP, has been at the forefront of the battle to bind EU member states to a sustainable fishing policy, a goal she finally secured early on Thursday morning.

Sweden's defender of fish reels in historic deal

“I’m off to bed after a long night of negotiations. The results could have been worse,” Lövin told her Facebook followers on 6am on Thursday.

Later in the day, Lövin is a bit more upbeat.

“It feels great now, but when I went home late yesterday I was a bit sad about not getting every thing we wanted,” she tells The Local.

Despite her daybreak Facebook lament that things could have been worse, Lövin is quick to explain what could have been better in a deal that she still says is “historic”.

“Better control over catch and release. But the ministers would not give an inch, they were immovable,” she says.

“On the other hand, we’ve got a new control function to make sure they don’t throw back more fish than the percentages we have agreed to.”

Lövin was poached by the Swedish Green Party after the release of her 2007 book “Silent Ocean”, which detailed the dire consequences of aggressive fishing practices.

It was never her plan to be a politician, but the party leadership put their back into persuading both her and the party faithful that she was the woman to get the job done. She eventually took the opportunity to make a difference, not just write about what had to be done.

She made it to Brussels on a Green ticket, one of a score of Swedish MEPs, and has fought from her end of the pool every since.

And it’s no storm-free wading pool. She and German MEP Ulrike Rodust were among the leaders of the Greens’ charm offensive on EU fisheries policy. They have cajoled, seduced and tempted not only the socialist bloc to come around to their side, but also tied up with liberals and, perhaps oddly at first glance, the anti-EU fringe in the parliament.

“For them it is utterly ridiculous that the EU decides fishing policy; they say it’s a waste of taxpayers’ money,” Lövin says of her euro-sceptic allies, adding that the coalition keeping together was, in the end, what made possible a deal that was hailed as historic by sustainable fishing NGOs.

NGO confederation OCEAN2012 credited Lövin and Rodust for having “displayed considerable skill building consensus throughout the European parliament for an ambitious reform,” said Baltic coordinator Christian Tsangarides, who told The Local that Lövin was “indefatiguable”.

“We have worked very methodically on building consensus, it is the only way to get a result in this kind of context,” Lövin underlines, but when The Local asks her if there was ever friction or a frosty atmosphere on the path to the deal – which required seven meetings before the final draft was agreed upon – Lövin lets out an emphatic “ooooh yes, oh yes, oh yes”.

“The conservatives in parliament have just been waiting for our coalition to fall apart,” she says.

“I’ve felt they then wanted to step in and be the ones to save EU fishing policy, because if they tie up with the socialists in parliament we are outnumbered and there is nothing the greens can do about it,” she says.

“It is fantastic that we stuck together. It was the key to our success.”

She particularly welcomed that the deal now requires member states to publish which criteria they use when allocating fishing opportunities to the fishermen.

“It gives us transparency. We can say, ‘This is a communal asset and why are you giving access to it to people who use unsustainable fishing methods?'”

OCEAN2012 summarized the new deal, saying: “Member states shall use transparent environmental and social criteria, such as the impact of the fishery on the environment, the history of compliance, and the contribution to the local economy.”

Lövin said that transparency, and the opportunity for critique it offered, could mean fishermen now have an incentive to be environmentally friendly and to let fish stocks breath.

“They’ll compete against each other, because if you are not sustainable you’ll lose out on your quota,” she tells The Local.

Despite having fought the fishes’ corner since 2007, Lövin falls silent when asked what her favourite fish is, aesthetically.

“All types of fish are flickering past my eyes…. the blue marlin is incredibly beautiful with its blue iridescence, and eels are very cute with their little fins,” she says.

“There are no ugly fish, not even lump suckers. Deep sea fish with their slimy antennas are touching to see, they remind me that they live their lives contentedly down there in the deep.”

And to eat?

“It is difficult to say, but I love the North Atlantic halibut. It is a delicacy and hopefully we’ll be able to enjoy it, in moderation, if the stock replenishes.”

Ann Törnkvist

Follow Ann on Twitter here

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Explained: Why is Sweden so worried about the EU’s minimum wage plan?

EU labour ministers meet in Brussels on Monday to discuss the European Commission's planned minimum wage directive. Why is the proposal causing such unease in Sweden?

Explained: Why is Sweden so worried about the EU's minimum wage plan?
Customers visit a branch of McDonalds in Stockholm. Photo: Stina Stjernkvist/TT

What’s happening on Monday? 

EU ministers responsible for employment and social affairs, including Sweden’s Eva Nordmark, will meet in Brussels for a two day meeting at which they hope to adopt a European Council position on a directive imposing “adequate minimum wages” on all EU countries. Once the Council, which represents member states, has agreed a common position, it will begin negotiations with the European Parliament and the European Commission. 

What’s Sweden’s position on the minimum wage directive? 

Sweden has been, along with Denmark, one of the most vocal opponents of the directive, arguing that it threatens the country’s collective bargaining model, in which unions and employers set wages without government interference. 

But on Friday, the government dropped its opposition, together with country’s umbrella union, the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, arguing that a compromise proposal put forward by the European Commission would protect Sweden’s wage autonomy. 

A majority of the members of the Swedish parliament’s employment committee are backing the government’s new stance, but three opposition parties, the Moderates, the Christian Democrats, and the Sweden Democrats, are opposed to the change in position. 

“I am extremely happy that there is broad support and majority backing for us to continue with the negotiations, to stand up for what we have come to so far, and do everything we can to protect the Swedish wage-setting model,” Sweden’s employment minister Eva Nordmark (S) said after a meeting with the employment committee on Friday. 

READ ALSO: Why Sweden doesn’t have a minimum wage and how to ensure you’re fairly paid

Why did Sweden make its dramatic last-minute u-turn? 

Sweden’s government judges that, after the compromise, the directive will no longer mean that Sweden is forced to bring in a statutory minimum wage. 

“I consider, together with experts in the civil service and experts in the unions and employer organisations, that there is no requirement for Sweden to bring in a statutory minimum wage,” Nordmark told TT. 

She added that agreeing to sign up to the directive would give Sweden the ability to take a deeper part in the negotiations giving it the power to make sure that important exceptions are made for Sweden. 

Denmark, however, is still resolved to say ‘no’ to the directive. 

Surely a minimum wage is a good thing? Isn’t Sweden supposed to be a high-wage economy? 

Sweden is certainly a high-wage economy, but that is largely thanks to its model of collective bargaining, under which wages are generally set by negotiations between employees and employers for each sector. 

If the directive sets a precedent allowing governments, either at a national or EU level, to interfere in this process, or for those who disagree with the result of the collective bargaining agreement to appeal to government entities, it could undermine the Swedish system. 

Who is still worried? 

More or less everyone. While the Swedish Trade Union Confederation is supporting the government’s decision, its vice chair Therese Guovelin, described the European Commission’s compromise proposal as simply “the least bad compromise proposal” the union had seen.

She has previously described the European Parliament’s position that the directive should apply to the entire European Union as “a catastrophe”.

“That would mean that a disgruntled employee who is not part of the union, could take their case to court, and would then end up at the EU Court, and it would then be them who would decide on what should be a reasonable salary,” she explained. “In Sweden, it’s the parties [unions and employers’ organisations] that decide on that.”

Tobias Billström, group leader for the Moderate Party, said he was concerned at the role of the European Court in the directive. 

“There are big risks with this,” he told TT. “The EU court might decide to interpret this directive as applying across the board, and then we might end up with what we wanted to avoid. The Moderates have as a result been against this development, and it’s important that Sweden gets to decide itself on the Swedish labour market.”

What might happen now? 

The European Parliament might try to remove the wording and the exemptions which Sweden hopes will allow its employers and unions to retain control of wage-setting. 

Mattias Dahl, chief executive of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, which represents employers’ groups, said that the government needed to stand its ground in the upcoming negotiations, reiterating that he would have preferred that the European Commission had not sought to give itself such a role in the Labour Market.  

Nordmark said that Sweden did not intend to back down to the parliament. 

“These are important red lines for us. If there are demands from the European Parliament that push in a different direction, we can lean on the Swedish opinion and what we stand for,” she said.