The Netherlands on Thursday lost its fight against an EU-wide ban on electric pulse fishing after Europe’s top court said EU lawmakers have wide discretion in making legislation. Pulse fishing is widely used in the Netherlands, which says the technique reduces unwanted bycatch and avoids ploughing nets along the seabed.
Opponents including French fishermen and environmentalists say the technique – which uses electrodes to emit electric waves and stun fish which then float upwards and are scooped up by giant nets – deplete fish numbers.
The concerns prompted the European Parliament and the EU Council to agree to a ban in 2019, with a transitional period running to June 30 this year under certain strict conditions.
The Netherlands subsequently took its grievance to the Luxembourg-based EU Court of Justice (CJEU) in 2019, arguing that lawmakers had not used the best scientific opinions to compare the environmental impact of pulse fishing and traditional beam trawling of North Sea sole.
Judges threw out the arguments.
The Court said: “The EU legislature has a wide discretion in this field and is not obliged to base its legislative choice on scientific and technical opinions only.
“Although the scientific and technical studies available contain, at times, divergent assessments of the extent of the negative impacts of electric pulse fishing, none of them states, contrary to what the Netherlands maintain, that this method has no negative impacts on the environment.”
The judgement sparked the fury of Nexit campaigners who blame France for it.
Nexit Denktank campaigners wrote: “Science says that pulse fishing is not bad for the environment, but the EU still bans Dutch fishermen, especially at the insistence of France (competition).
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“EU enlargement in 2004 altered the union’s internal balance and member states’ voting weights. The Netherlands has less of a say than some of the newest members, yet it is one of the largest per-capita contributors to the EU budget.”
Mr Korteweg, writing a piece for Carnegie Europe a year after the Brexit referendum, noted that while there were benefits in mutual trade under a larger bloc, more member states inside the EU “meant the Dutch voice became softer”.
This “proved particularly uncomfortable” for lawmakers in the Netherlands after member states agreed to hand over more powers to Brussels.
He also detailed how Dutch opposition to the EU had “hardened”, adding: “The rejection of the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine in a referendum in April 2016 underlined the image of the Netherlands as a country critical of the EU.
“Today, support for EU membership hovers at around 40 percent, feeding speculation that the Netherlands could be next to leave the club after Britain voted to quit in June 2016.”
Additional reporting by Maria Ortega