EUROPEAN Commission launches "an aggressive defence" –

EUROPEAN Commission launches “an aggressive defence” Published:  11 July, 2008

THE EUROPEAN Commission has launched “an aggressive defence” of their decision to force Shetland fishermen to pay back thousands of pounds in grants to the local council.

Shetland Islands Council does not want the money back and yesterday convener Sandy Cluness accused the EC of double standards, calling on UK government to help persuade Europe to drop the case.

Last November, after a three year investigation, the EC ruled that three SIC grant schemes to help first time fishermen, fishing boat modernisation and fish factories were in breach of state aid rules

In March the EC backed down on two of the schemes saying that “de minimis” rules could apply. Under these rules one fish factory still had to repay £100,000 to the council, but 20 fishing boats were not asked for anything.

However 78 first time fishermen who were awarded grants of around £7,500 to buy shares to join local boats still face having to pay back the money, with compound interest thrown in.

Mr Cluness said he had hoped the EC would apply “de minimus” to the first time shareholder scheme, but instead they had “lodged an aggressive defence of their decision” in the European Court of Justice

The convener said: “Everybody, including the EC, is desperately looking around to see what they can do about fuel costs and what they can do to help fishermen.

“This grant scheme was something we did to help fishermen from our own resources in the ’90s and now both they and us are being penalised for it. It seems to be double standards.”

Mr Cluness has written to UK fisheries minister Jonathan Shaw asking him to pursue the matter after he pledged to help the council in January this year. is published by Special Publications. Special Publications also publish Fish Farmer, the Fish Industry Yearbook, the Scottish Seafood Processors Federation Diary, the Fish Farmer Handbook and a range of wallplanners.