Brussels firm Crosby Renouf has been instructed for the first time on behalf of Portugal’s Azores Islands in a landmark action against the EU’s Council of Ministers.
The firm is challenging EU regulation 1954/2003, which enables European fishermen to operate off the coast of the Azores, on the grounds that it breaches the EU’s own environmental protection policies.
Crosby Renouf, a European law and competition specialist firm, landed the work after a traditional client, an EU government department, was contacted by representatives of the Azores looking for legal representation to pursue its case.
The law firm recently applied to the European Court of First Instance in Luxembourg for an interim measure that would delay implementation of the regulation.
It did so because to rely solely on a substantive challenge, which Crosby Renouf has also launched through the European Court of First Instance, means it could be years before the EU’s regulation, the main part of which comes into force on 1 August, will be overturned.
By which point European fishermen will have seriously damaged the Azores’ marine population, the firm claims.
Spanish fishing vessels are already fishing in the 100-200 nautical mile area of the Azorean coast, which is subject to the terms of the EC regulation. Fishing in this area was previously restricted to Azoreans.
At the injunction hearing, Crosby Renouf – for the first time in European court history – argued that in implementing the regulation the EU had breached its own requirement to integrate environmental policies into its common fisheries policy.
Crosby Renouf managing partner Michael Renouf said: “[Arguing this point] had never been done before in relation to the EU’s common fisheries policy. Applying it here could have a knock-on effect in the [European] Community’s policy thinking.”
Allowing the EU fisheries fleet access to the Azores could threaten the survival of marine life around the island, according to campaigners. To date, only Azoreans have been allowed to fish in the islands’ deep waters, which boast unique marine and deep water coral reefs. Local fishing also represents 5 per cent of the Azores’ gross domestic product.
The EU is instructing in-house legal counsel.