Image via WikipediaPresident Sarkozy has come out in support of a ban on the fishing of blue fin tuna. Pass me a glass of something fortifying.
The European Union has presided over a fishing policy that has resulted in its waters being fished out by trawlers scraping the seabed with fine meshed nets while its attempts to buy out fishing vessels by offering bribes for scrapping the boats has been nullified by its policy of issuing quotas which can be bought and sold...why scrap the boat when by keeping it you can sell its quota?
When I was young...O.K., pass yourself a glass of something fortifying as off she goes again about the good old days....we had proper fish shops with proper fish. Finnan haddies, smoked haddock, whopping fillets of cod, huge herrings to be fried in oatmeal - a cornucopia of nature's bounty brought ashore by men whose trawlers always seemed to be battling killer ice in Icelandic waters protected by what was left of the Royal Navy. Nowadays when I head for the fish stalls all I see is the traditional fish species that appear pathetically small, or fish from far flung seas that I can't even pronounce, let alone identify. Why should this be? It is because our masters have taken no thought for tomorrow...yet again...and allowed our seas to be denuded of fish to the extent that even if all fishing were to be stopped immediately the breeding stocks are so depleted that it is doubtful whether some species could ever recover.
The blue fin tuna is in this category, so why am I astonished that Sarkozy is taking action in its defence? He doesn't strike me as someone concerned about the environment, but yet, in his own way, he is. He is concerned about his environment...the political one.
I think he senses a new feeling in the air in France which has surfaced with the economic crisis. Politicians can no longer rely on their traditional lobbies, and the parties are hunting around to find new identities... or in the case of the Socialist Party starting the traditional witch hunt to pin the blame for their most recent electoral disasters. As Minister for the Interior, Sarkozy projected a tough 'law and order' image which did wonders for his campaign to become President, but since coming to power, his mouth has been mightier than his hand and he needs to reinforce his image.
France has long had a reputation for public disorder...demonstrators in the streets, farmers driving cows down the Champs Elysees, vignerons overturning tankers of Spanish wine...and up to now, this has been handled with kid gloves by french governments. The riot police will take on groups of young immigrants protesting about discrimination...well, small groups...but you don't see them sent out to break up road blocks of taxi drivers protesting at plans to remove their monopoly, or farmers blockading petrol pumps at threats to make a mild reduction in the largesse handed out by the Common Agricultural Policy. I think this is about to change, and the fishermen are going to be the symbolic target, as were the miners for Margaret Thatcher.
As has been apparent in the disgraceful background to the Karachi massacre of French and Pakistani workers, French politicians like to pay off old scores, and Sarkozy has one to pay off with the fishing industry in the Mediterranean, which provided a bastion of support for Chirac...who did his best to bury Sarkozy's political ambitions. This meshes with what he senses to be the mood of the moment in France.... a concern for the environment, unease with the European Union and a questioning of the traditional protectionism of agriculture. No politician in their right mind will attack the farmers..they vote right, after all...but fishermen are a handy target - relatively small in number and viewed as exploiters of the natural world. All those Jacques Cousteau films and snorkelling holidays mount up over the years.
British trying to return across the Channel from their holidays will have experience of French fishermen, blockading the ports and attacking yachts trying to leave....they learned something from the Royal Navy, after all...so there will not be much pity expressed from the other side of the water if the riot police turn their tactic of bash first and ask questions later on the fishermen, but, remarkably, I don't think that there will be much pity expressed in France either as long as the French navy manages to find an undamaged warship to push the scavenging Spanish trawlers out of fishing exclusion zones as well.
Sarkozy, like a lot of European politicians, admires Margaret Thatcher and her relentless drive to change the nature of a whole society - the society which she denied existed. She swung her handbag with vigour in her day, and while British men recoil from carrying such an unmasculine object, Sarkozy, being French, has no such inhibitions.
We are about to see who blinks first.