EU Transparency

Commission proposes major improvements to transparency in EU fisheries subsidies

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The European Union institutions are currently working towards an agreement on the future of the EU’s fisheries policies for the period 2014-2020. The basis for the discussion is the Commission’s various legislative proposals made over the course of 2011.

The EU’s fisheries policy comprise a number of different elements, probably the most well known are the catch limits and quotas that determine the amount of fish that can be caught. Another element is the subsidies paid to the fishing industry. is a project of EU Transparency which aims to keep track of who gets what in fishing subsidies, and encourage a debate about whether fishing subsidies are working for or against more sustainable management of marine natural resources.

Currently, the EU awards subsidies (matched by national co-financing) under the European Fisheries Fund. The rules for transparency of these subsidies are poor and the implementation of the rules has been even worse. To read more on this, see the report Eyes Wide Shut.

Having been very critical of both the performance of the Commission and Member States in ensuring financial transparency in the European Fisheries Fund, we at were encouraged to read the proposed transparency rules for the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, which will replace the EFF from 2014 onwards.

Article 143 (subsection 2) of the EMFF proposal states:

Member States shall in order to ensure transparency in the support from the EMFF maintain a list of operations in CSV or XML format which shall be accessible through the single website or the single website portal providing a list and summary of the operational programme.

The list of operations shall be updated at least every three months.

Annex IV of the proposed new regulation sets out the information to be published:

The list of operations referred to Article 143 shall contain, in at least one of the official languages of the Member State, the following data fields:

– Beneficiary name (only legal entities; no natural persons shall be named);
– Community Fleet Register (CFR) number of fishing vessels as referred to in Article 10 of Commission Regulation (EC) No 26/2004 of 30 December 200343 (to be completed only where the operation is linked to a fishing vessel)
– Operation name;
– Operation summary;
– Operation start date;
– Operation end date (expected date for physical completion or full implementation of the operation);
– Total eligible expenditure;
– Amount of EU contribution;
– Operation postcode;
– Country;
– Name of union priority;
– Date of last update of the list of operations.

The headings of the data fields and the names of the operations shall be also provided in at least one other official language of the European Union.

This proposal follows very closely the recommendations we have made for how transparency in fisheries subsidies could be improved. It is to be welcomed. Both the form of the data (machine-readable CSV or XML), the regularity of publication (every three months) and the details of the data (who, what, where, when, how much, why?) set a new standard for transparency in EU funds. If this is agreed by the Parliament and Member States, the EU’s fisheries subsidies will be the most transparent of all EU funds – certainly far more transparent than farm subsidies or regional funds.

The question of whether natural persons should be included among the beneficiaries is a difficult one. On the one hand, the ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union in a case relating to farm subsidies, attempts to strike a new balance between the rights of privacy of beneficiaries and the importance of transparency in public policy in an open society. We believe that in the case of farm subsidies, the Court of Justice struck the wrong balance and reached the wrong conclusion. We believe that the public right to information is outweighs the right of business operators to privacy. There is no obvious reason why the names of business operators who receive EU funds for fishing activities ought to be kept secret. There is no stigma attached to receiving a subsidy of this kind. It is not clear that the business operator could come to any harm as a result of this information being made public.

Indeed, the EU Advocate General, in her opinion on the same Court of Justice case, specifically singled out transparency of fisheries subsidies.

“The fisheries sector is one in which payments are made directly to beneficiaries but the objective of transparency is achieved in a different, perhaps more targeted, way. Thus, Article 51 of Council Regulation (EC) No 1198/2006 (57) makes arrangements for publication such that there is a clear link between the grant, the project and the individual. It is therefore relatively easy to see how such information could inform a public debate on financing in the fisheries sector. Such a link between, on the one hand, the beneficiary and the amount of aid that he receives and, on the other hand, the purpose for which the aid is granted is lacking in the arrangements for publication under examination in the present case.” (paragraph 111)

We believe that DG Mare ought to have thought more carefully about this and as part of its consultations on the future of the EMFF should have consulted with both the fishing industry and civil society on the pros and cons of complete transparency in fisheries subsidies. DG Agri has gone through this process over the past twelve months in preparation for a forthcoming new regulation on transparency in farm subsidies.

We believe that the Commission has over-reacted in response to the Court of Justice ruling. We hope that the Commission will reconsider or the Council and/or Parliament will intervene to improve what is otherwise an excellent transparency law. At the very least, if names of natural persons are to be kept secret, then rather than omit publication of entire payment records, only the beneficiary names should be redacted from the data. The remaining data describing each subsidy payment should continue to be published.

Civil society common position on transparency in farm subsidies

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Following the European Court of Justice ruling, the network has agreed a common position on a future transparency regime for the common agricultural policy. We have submitted the common position to EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Cioloş, who is responsible for implementing the European Transparency Initiative in relation to the CAP. Read the letter here.

European Civil Society Joint Position: Transparency of End Beneficiaries of CAP Payments

In November 2010, the European Court of Justice deemed the EU rules requiring the publication of end beneficiaries of common agricultural policy funds to be partially invalid. The ruling presents an opportunity to increase the transparency and accountability of the common agricultural policy (CAP) and to equip civil society with the information necessary to engage in a constructive, well-informed public debate about the future of a policy that accounts for forty per cent of the EU’s budget.

In line with the objectives of the European Transparency Initiative, we call on the Council and Commission to agree new regulations to require the publication of information on beneficiaries of CAP funds in a way that improves public oversight of public expenditure and does a better job at explaining who was paid what, and why. As well as contributing to greater public accountability and legitimacy, budget transparency is a powerful safeguard against waste, fraud and abuse of EU funds.

Individual payment information, indicating beneficiary name and geographical location is essential for the public to know who benefits from payments under the CAP. Are the beneficiaries large multinational companies or small family farms? Is the policy concentrating aid in Europe’s wealthiest or least advantaged regions? Is the policy contributing to conservation or over-exploitation of natural resources? Equally important is information about the nature of the measures under which payments are made. Explaining who got what is only half the story. The public is entitled to know why the money was paid.

Previous transparency rules required every Member State to publish the data in the form of a website with a search tool. This was a costly exercise and in many ways made it harder for the public to access the data. We advocate the publication of data in a simple, machine readable data format (CSV, XML, RDF or similar), in line with best practice in open government data. If member state governments wish to publish the data using a website search tool as well, they should be free to do so, and this decision can be taken by Member States.

Under the previous transparency rules, only four data fields were required to be published: beneficiary name, amount, payment type (three broad categories) and municipality/postcode. As the European Court of Justice has ruled, this limited data was insufficient to give the public a real understanding of the policy.

To maximise transparency and accountability and to minimise administrative burdens, the simplest way of publishing the data is for each Member State to publish a public version of the ‘matrix files’ that they are already required to compile and submit to the Commission for audit purposes by 1 February each year. The table below sets out the most important data fields that should be included in this public version.

Signatories and affiliations

Jack Thurston, Nils Mulvad, Brigitte Alfter – / EU Transparency
Trees Robijns – BirdLife International
Kirtana Chandrasekaran – Friends of the Earth International
Celsa Peiteado Morales – WWF España
Ana Carricondo – SEO/BirdLife in Spain
Jana Mittermaier – Transparency International Liaison Office to the EU
Victoria Anderica Caffarena – Access Info Europe
Jonathan Gray – Open Knowledge Foundation
Tim Grabiel – Client Earth
Adrian Mogos – Jurnalul National & Romanian Centre for Investigative Journalism

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Court ruling won’t stop disclosure of farm subsidies in Sweden

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by Staffan Dahllöf, network member, Copenhagen

Swedish authorities will continue to release data on EU farm subsidies in spite of the recent ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and a subsequent request by the European Commission that member states suspend disclosure on the Internet. The Court’s ruling does not affect Swedish law on access to information, says a legal expert in the Swedish authority that pays out CAP funds. Read the rest of this entry »