When the reality of moral corruption at the European Commission surpasses fiction

In June and again in November 2018, BLOOM and 22 organizations asked the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), a service of the European Commission, to open an investigation for suspicion of fraud regarding the public funding of electric fishing by the Netherlands. BLOOM revealed that Dutch trawlers had received 21.5 million euros in public subsidies to support the development of electric fishing although 70 of the 84 fishing licenses are illegal. Our analysis had also shown numerous irregularities in the use of European subsidies such as EUR2.7 million in subsidies for the development of a fishing technique that is explicitly prohibited by EU laws. However, despite such irrefutable evidence of the unlawful use of public subsidies that BLOOM has produced and which the Commission has not denied, OLAF has decided not to open an investigation. Surprisingly, however, this decision by OLAF has still not been communicated to the 23 co-applicants (NGOs and artisanal fishers’ organizations). This information was leaked in the Dutch press on 18 January 2019!

Given the clarity of the case of fraud, OLAF’s conclusion is incomprehensible. But beyond that, their choice to communicate this decision, which is extremely beneficial to Dutch trawlers, only to the Dutch press necessarily raises questions on their neutrality” reacts Frédéric Le Manach, BLOOM’s Scientific Director.

> Read our requests to open an investigation of 13 June and 6 November 2018

On the incestuous European institutions

Alerted by researchers working on corruption within European institutions, the BLOOM team looked more closely at the European Anti-Fraud Office, described as the European “Financial Police”, to understand how this Commission’s service — supposed to produce independent surveys “so as to ensure that all EU taxpayers’ money reaches projects that can create jobs and growth in Europe” — was able to conclude the public funding of illegal and destructive fishing practices constituted neither “fraud nor irregularities“.

And there goes the surprise…” says Frederic Le Manach. “We have discovered that the person in charge of investigations on European structural funds at OLAF, Ernesto Bianchi, was Head of Unit at the Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE) ­— that is, the European Commission’s fisheries department ­— between 2011 and 2015. That’s precisely when the European Commission organized the major expansion of electric fishing in Europe! OLAF has therefore asked one of the main culprits of the electric fishing scandal to investigate on its own misdeeds! Why would this former Fisheries Officer pin himself and his former colleagues?” questions BLOOM’s Scientific Director.

In fact, Ernesto Bianchi’s former Unit merged with the one headed by Elisa Roller (still at the head of the newly-created unit) in 2015. Elisa Roller has taken multiple public stances in favor of electric fishing, such as during the event organized by BLOOM at the European Parliament on 10 January 2018. Ms Roller is also head of the unit that proposed in 2014 to facilitate the expansion of electric fishing via the European financial instrument dedicated to the fisheries sector (the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund),[1] and then in 2016 to lift the restrictions on electric fishing so as to mainstream its practice in the North Sea.

The electric fishing file continues to uncover the deeply toxic and corrupting ramifications of industrials within public authorities. It’s like the mycelium of mushrooms that deploys poisonous, deep and invisible connections” says Claire Nouvian, BLOOM’s Chair.

> Read the chronology of our campaign against electric fishing
> Read our advocacy document

In this same logic of musical chairs, with senior officials at the service of the industry instead of the common good, Ernesto Bianchi’s deputy at the Commission’s Fisheries Directorate (DG MARE) — the Dutch Joost Paardekooper — was “Fisheries Attaché of the Netherlands to the European Union” between 2005 and 2009, before joining the European Commission.[2]In other words, Dutch industrials and officials have implemented a perfect device to form public decisions according to their own agenda. It was all set for the perfect storm: the iniquitous, shameful, unacceptable decision to open the floodgates to a destructive fishery that never ceased to destroy the marine environment and the jobs of artisanal fishers. It is time for that storm to turn against those responsible for this moral corruption, which destroys our confidence in our institutions” summarizes Claire Nouvian.

The date chosen by OLAF to communicate to the Dutch press is not serendipitous. There are only a few weeks left before the dissolution of the European Parliament and to ban the electric fishing. Monday 21 January, BLOOM and European artisanal fishers met in Boulogne-sur-Mer (France) to ask EU institutions to support the compromise proposal currently under negotiation, which would make it possible to prohibit electric fishing by July 31, 2019.

Notes and references

[1] The European Maritime and Fisheries Fund’s (EMFF) legislative proposal included the possibility to increase the legal threshold of electric trawlers through to the modernization of fleets. Fortunately, this detrimental measure was identified and removed by the Parliament’s EMFF rapporteur, French MEP Alain Cadec. Defeated by the Parliament’s decision, the Netherlands negotiated directly with the Commission and Council a way to circumvent the Parliament’s decision and obtained 42 additional derogations, under the guise of a supposedly ‘pilot project’ on bycatch mitigation.

[2] Joost Paardekooper replaced Ernesto Bianchi in October 2015 and was then replaced by Elisa Roller when their two units got merged. He is now Head of the ‘Scientific Advice and Data Collection’ Unit at the Fisheries Directorate (DG MARE) of the European Commission.

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