We analysed the extent to which European politicians have adhered to scientific recommendations on annual total allowable catches (TACs) from 1987 to 2011, covering most of the period of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). For the 11 stocks examined, TACs were set higher than scientific recommendations in 68% of decisions. Politically-adjusted TACs averaged 33% above scientifically recommended levels. There was no evidence that the 2002 reform of the CFP improved decision-making, as was claimed at the time. We modelled the effects of such politically-driven decision-making on stock sustainability. Our results suggest that political adjustment of scientific recommendations dramatically increases the probability of a stock collapsing within 40. years. In 2012 European fisheries policy will undergo a once-a-decade reform. Ten years ago radical reforms were promised but the changes failed to improve sustainability. It is likely that the 2012 reform will be similarly ineffective unless decision-making is changed so that catch allocations are based on science rather than politics.