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What a difference a Treaty makes: CFP reform debates in the 2000s and 2010s

Long-time readers of this blog will remember my (past) obsession with the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) thanks to my PhD research on information flows in EU policy-making during the recent CFP reform.

In a new paper posted on by titled “Exploring the Political Agenda of the European Parliament Using a Dynamic Topic Modeling Approach“, Derek Greene and James P. Cross look into the question what topics are discussed in MEPs’ speeches from 1999-2014 and how to detect this with text mining.

On page 23 of the paper, they show a chart with the number of MEP speeches relating to EU fisheries policy, with a visible spike in the 2009-13 period (my PhD looked in particular at 2009-11), i.e. during the time of the recent CFP reform, with additional spikes at key events.

[Chart from p. 23 about here, will ask the authors whether I can use it]

The authors argue on the following page that:

“As can be seen, MEPs pay a reasonably stable level of attention to fisheries between 2000 and 2010. This trend is interrupted in 2010, when MEP attention to fisheries increases.”

What is ignored in this interpretation is that there had already been a  CFP reform in the early 2000s, including with a 2001 Green Paper on CFP reform. However, different to the 2009 Green Paper, there was no spike in 2001 and also no spike after the 2002 reform proposal was published in late May 2002. I suppose that MEPs’ attention where probably as high back than as it was in the 2010s, but the competencies of the EP to deal with this topic was lower.

Assuming that the data is correct, it shows that making the EU Parliament a co-legislator in core CFP matters under the Lisbon Treaty has made a big difference between 2001-02 and 2009-13. I didn’t study the 2002 reform for my PhD, but one could also assume that the difference in public attention by MEPs in the 2000s and 2010s may also have had different effects on media and general public attention to the topic of EU fisheries policy in both periods.

These observations don’t change the overall argument of the paper by Greene and Cross (where CFP is anyway just one of several topics and by far not the focus). Strictly speaking, it could also be put in line with a more complex view of the punctuated equilibrium theory that they refer to to explain the 2010s spike. But since the paper is just on, I still thought to point this out for the CFP, supposing there is time to reflect this in a version that might go into peer review.

What the data for EU fisheries policy shows in any case is that the agenda dynamics observed by the authors through their data also have to do with the overall competencies of the European Parliament. These have changed over time, not least through the Lisbon Treaty, bringing new topics at the centre stage of the plenary, something that probably will come up quite frequently in the analysis on other policies, too. 

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