European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has initiated an investigation into the lack of transparency around EU ministerial decisions on annual fish quotas.
“The famous all-night meetings of ministers in Brussels are completely behind closed doors, and yet make important decisions for the sustainability of fishing stocks and of jobs in fishing communities around Europe,” Ms O’Reilly said.
The investigation, which focuses on the negotiations confirmed by EU ministers each December on sharing out stocks in EU waters, has been welcomed by the Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation.
The European Ombudsman office inquiry is one of three separate investigations into a lack of transparency on the decision-making of national governments at EU level which Ms O’Reilly announced on Tuesday. (May 14).
The other two inquiries focus on how the EU handles Eurogroup documents and makes them public or not, and on public access to the positions taken by national authorities on the risk of pesticides to bees.
The investigation into lack of transparency around setting total allowable catches and quotas of fish by ministers follows a complaint by non-profit environmental law organisation ClientEarth, which has offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlin and Beijing.
In a letter to Mr Jeppe Jeppe Tranholm‐Mikkelsen, Secretary-General of the Council of the EU, dated May 10th, Ms O’Reilly explains that the complaint concerns how the EU council adopts the annual regulations setting the ‘total allowable catches’ of fish stocks in the north-east Atlantic for 2017, 2018 and 2019.
She says the complaint concerns the EU council’s failure to record the positions of member states expressed in working groups, at Committee of Permanent representatives of governments of member states (Coreper) meetings, and at ministerial meetings of the council.
She cites failure to provide timely access to “legislative documents (proactively and upon request)”, and a register of documents, which the complainant argues is “incomplete and not user-friendly”.
“As I am sure you agree, transparency is essential to enable European citizens to participate effectively in the EU’s decision-making process and to hold those involved to account,” she says.
“ Unless documents are made available in a timely way, interested third parties with relevant expertise cannot provide critical input that can be taken on board by decision-makers,” she says.
“ Given the public interest in sustainable fishing and sustainable fishing communities, from environmental, social and economic perspectives, I have decided to open an inquiry into this complaint,”she says..
Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation chief executive Patrick Murphy said that any such inquiry was timely.
Mr Murphy said that the Irish industry was briefed by the Irish fisheries minister and officials both before and after EU fish councils in December, and such consultation was very welcome.
“However, who wouldn’t welcome an investigation into the transparency of EU ministerial decisions,” he said.
The late Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation chief executive Joey Murrin had been a scathing critic of how EU ministers conducted their business in relation to quota setting and coined the phrase “paper fish” – for fish allocated from stocks which may or not be able to sustain such catches.
Ms O’Reilly’s separate inquiry into how the EU handles Eurogroup documents relates to three technical committees of national civil servants who prepare Eurogroup ministerial meetings.
Documents showing when the Economic and Financial Committee, Eurogroup Working Group, and Economic Policy Committee meet and what they discuss are “not public, making it extremely difficult for citizens to monitor Eurozone governance”, she said.
In a separate ongoing Commission inquiry, Ms O’Reilly issued a finding of maladministration for the refusal to provide public access to documents on the positions taken by national authorities on the risk of pesticides to bees.
She noted that the European Food Safety Authority produces guidelines in 2013 on the impact of pesticides on bees, but some national authorities were blocking their implementation by the European Commission, she said.
This is entirely their decision, but when they make it, European citizens have a right to know the position their own government took, just as they should at member state level,” Ms O’Reilly said.
“ Biodiversity is a particularly important issue,” she said.