Madrid/Brussels, 9 March 2021 – MEPs are being urged to vote on 9 March 2021 to end secrecy surrounding the control of fishing by removing a controversial clause that dates from 1993, long before the EU’s transparency norms got adopted.
In letters sent to all MEPs on 8 March 2021, Access Info, along with ClientEarth, the Environmental Justice Foundation, and Oceana, reiterated a call made earlier this year by 72 civil society organisations, and urged MEPs to support the amendments to the problematic Article 113, which prohibits the Commission from sharing fishing controls data with other persons, even with MEPs, unless the relevant Member State has given express consent.
The amendments are available here.
“It’s shocking that outdated rules from almost thirty years ago are blocking access to essential information needed by MEPs and by others such as investigative journalists to guard against wrongdoing, corruption, and environmental damage,” said Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe.
Martina Tombini, Legal Researcher and Campaigner with Access Info explained that “The EU spends millions on controlling fishing, but as civil society watchdogs we can’t find out basic data such as how many fishing trips are inspected, how many illegal activities are uncovered, and whether these environmental crimes are being effectively sanctioned.”
Tombini explained that while the European Parliament’s ENVI Committee on environmental matters is in favour of the reforms to Article 113, MEPs in the Fisheries Committee (PECH) most regrettably ignored calls to amend it when they had the chance on 26 January 2021. That is why the 9 March 2021 vote in the plenary of the Parliament is so important.
The Article 113 secrecy clause was tested before the General Court of the EU on 3 May 2018, after Greenpeace submitted two access to documents requests to the Commission about allegedly irregular shipment of live Bluefin tuna from Tunisia to a fish farm located in Malta.
Malta objected to disclosure and won the case. Given the way Article 113 is redacted, the Court had no choice but to reject the argument that the EU’s younger transparency rules could take precedence in this case. The 1993 secrecy rules currently trump transparency and the only way to change this is by amending the problematic Article 113.
“Publicly available data on fishing controls is essential for Members of the European Parliament to be able to ensure that the regulations are properly enforced. There are no credible excuses for an outdated provision that limits full and rapid access to this data,” concluded Darbishire.