France stifles evidence of its fishing sector’s economic disaster and tries to impose it on the EU

On 4 July 2013, the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur revealed a confidential report of the Court of Auditors on public subsidies to the fisheries sector in France. This extremely harsh report, which shows that public subsidies exceed the revenue generated by the fisheries sector (about one billion euros per year), was buried in 2010 under the Sarkozy government, about a year after the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) had started. But since the Socialist Party accessed power again in 2012, what happened to this explosive report whose publication would have completely reoriented EU negotiations and the French position?


It remained buried at the Court of Auditors… And the Socialist Fisheries Minister, Frédéric Cuvillier, continued to follow the line of his right-wing predecessor Bruno Lemaire consisting in denying failure, fighting the European Commission’s ambitions to rebuild fish stocks and make employment a priority (over production objectives), refuting the sector’s dependence on subsidies, its economic underperformance, denying benefits to the fishing industry, refusing any responsibility for the agony of artisanal fisheries. In short: a status quo that only satisfies industrial fishing lobbies … and personal electoral goals.


Thus, in May, the most important part of the fisheries negotiations has resulted in an agreement, which is not adapted to the emergency of the situation, and which is mainly due to the blocking of France until the last minute of the negotiations.


Fortunately, the secret report, now available on the website of the Nouvel Observateur ( and here for a translation of the article in English was released in extremis before the vote on Wednesday, July 10, 2013, of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee on the budget of the Common Fisheries Policy: a minimum of 6 billion euros is a stake.


What is the main issue? The rapporteur of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), the Brittany MEP Cadec, proposes to reintroduce construction aid, although such aid have been condemned by the Court of Auditors, the European Commission and the research community for being the main reasons for the degradation of marine resources, the sector’s economic performance and ultimately employment.


Financing the construction of new boats while Europe fails to replenish its fish stocks is precisely the kind of bad measure that the Court of Auditors’ report could have avoided: no elected politician would have been in a position to defend it when the measure held such a disastrous public assessment of its efficacy” says Claire Nouvian, founder of BLOOM.


France has deprived the EU of a key document which confirmed the evaluation of failure drawn up by the European Commission on the governance of fisheries. If it had been made public or at least accessible to decision makers, this report would have entirely changed the way in which the negotiations were conducted and would not have allowed France to behave as it did, as a blocking force and toxic diplomat,” says Claire Nouvian. “Removing an instrumental piece from the democratic debate is a serious matter about which the French government should explain itself.


In its “Green Paper” launching the CFP reform in 2009,[1] the European Commission made a scathing critique of fisheries policies and indicated “a whole-scale and fundamental reform” alone could “bring about the dramatic change that is needed to reverse the current situation”, which it characterized by “overfishing, fleet overcapacity, heavy subsidies, low economic resilience and decline in the volume of fish caught by European fishermen“.


The Green Paper continued: “This must not be yet another piecemeal, incremental reform but a sea change cutting to the core reasons behind the vicious circle in which Europe’s fisheries have been trapped in recent decades.”


By stifling at a critical time this essential contribution by the Court of Auditors, France has ensured that the “vicious circle”, denounced by the report as leading the industry to its loss, would continue unhindered. “Whether from left or right, French fishing policies are based on the same opacity, the same short-termism and the same links with industrial lobbies,” says Claire Nouvian. “This was confirmed by the recent CFP vote in the European Parliament: the only Socialists who voted against all other European Socialists and rejected the recovery targets of fish stocks were the French ones… “


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