Access to fisheries subsidies data — The French case

Since June 2015, BLOOM has been arm wrestling with the French administration to obtain the final and complete list of beneficiaries of the European Fisheries Fund (EFF), which originally ran from 2007 to 2013 but was extended to late 2016. Despite having endorsed the UN Sustainable Development Goals, having chaired the Open Government Partnership, and having developed a national law to increase transparency and facilitate collaboration between administrations and civil society, France utterly fails to deliver anything but empty speeches.

On this page, you will find our correspondence with the French administration, which illustrates the difficulty we are still facing in gaining access to public data pertaining to public subsidies.

April 2015: preliminary research on the European Fisheries Fund

BLOOM starts looking for the list of beneficiaries of the European Fisheries Fund. Despite the French administration in charge of fisheries (DPMA in French) having no dedicated website, we find three files online (new centralized URLs since 2017):

30 June 2015: first contact with the French administration

Given that these files were either outdated or unusable, we contacted the French administration to clarify the situation. During a phone call, they acknowledged that they would not publish any file of EFF beneficiaries in a usable format on purpose, with no further justification.

1 July 2015: the French administration confirms in writing that it will not collaborate

In a follow up email dated 1 July 2015, the French administration confirms its refusal to release any usable data on the ground of anonymity: they refer to the Volker und Markus Schecke GbR (C-92/09) Judgment of 9 November 2010 by the Court of Justice of the European Union, which partly invalidated the European regulations with regards to the publication of information on beneficiaries of European agricultural instruments.

29 July 2015: BLOOM formally requests usable data

By registered letter with an acknowledgement of receipt, BLOOM argues that providing anonymity must not prevent the administration from publishing data in a usable format. By doing so, they over-interpret the law. We formally requests the list of French beneficiaries of the EFF in a usable format.

2 September 2015: BLOOM initiates a referral procedure

Given the lack of response by the administration, BLOOM seeks an intervention of the Commission on the access to administrative documents (CADA in French), in order to force their cooperation.

5 November 2015: the Commission on the access to administrative documents proves BLOOM right

The CADA considers that all documents relating to the allocation of public subsidies must be regarded as administrative documents, and, as such, must be publicized when requested.

7 March 2016: BLOOM sends second formal request to French administration

Following up on CADA’s positive advice, BLOOM urges the French administration to cooperate and to provide a usable file that contains the detailed list of French EFF beneficiaries.

6 April 2016: BLOOM obtains the 2014, incomplete file but a usable format

With no further comments, the administration finally releases a usable file of the 2014 data. However, it is already quite outdated so we are not satisfied.

20 May 2016: Meeting with French administration

During a meeting with the Head of the French fisheries administration (our first), we emphasize that our request is substantiated and that we will not let go. They promise that they will send us the definitive file by Fall in a usable format.

8 September 2016: BLOOM sends third formal request to French administration

Still awaiting the final EFF file, BLOOM sends a third formal request to the French administration and also asks for the French vessel registry, which contains the list of vessels flagged in France as well as their owners. BLOOM also requests economic data aggregated but unpublished by IFREMER.

20 October 2016: The French administration re-sends the same data

Following our letter of 8 September, we receive the same file as the one we had received on 6 April 2016, identical down to the last comma.

21 October 2016: The French administration postpones publication of data

The French administration informs us that:

  • the final EFF file will be ready by the end of the first trimester of 2017 by way of transmission to the European Commission;
  • the French vessel registry is not disclosable, as it is protected under industrial and commercial privilege;
  • IFREMER could aggregate the requested data, at BLOOM’s expense.

15 March 2017: BLOOM sends fourth formal request to French administration

With no further data from the French administration, BLOOM sends a new formal request to ensure that the final EFF file will be publicized. We also use the opportunity to request data from the Financial instruments for Fisheries Guidance, which ran from 1994 to 1999 (FIFG 1), and then from 2000 to 2006 (FIFG 2).

15 March 2017: BLOOM sends letter to European Commission

BLOOM also requests both FIFG 1 & 2 files to the European Commission, which was in charge of administering these instruments.

7 April 2017: BLOOM sends letter to French Minister of Ecology

Facing an uncooperative administration, BLOOM sends a formal letter to the Minister of Ecology — Ms. Ségolène Royal at the time — to explain our demands and facilitate cooperation.

21 April 2017: Ministry of Ecology responds to BLOOM’s request

The Ministry replies to our letter, but only promises to follow the file. Nothing more.

18 May 2017: The European Commission provides FIFG data

The European Commission sends us the FIFG 1 & 2 files on a CD-ROM.

23 May 2017: The French administration provides FIFG data but still fails to provide updated EFF file

13 July 2017: BLOOM sends fifth formal request to French administration

BLOOM sends yet another formal letter to the French administration to inform them that, despite our clear interest in EFF data and their promise to publicize it, we still had not received anything from them. We however inform them that we have found the much coveted file in the utterly inappropriate Foire aux questions (FAQs) of the website. This file being incomplete, we ask them to provide additional information (e.g. subsidies’ axis, city etc.)

1 September 2017: Follow up email with the French administration

BLOOM inquires about its request to obtain complete EFF data, to which the French administration replies on 5 September that this instrument is now closed and that performing a new, specific extraction would require time and effort that the administration is obviously quite unwilling to provide. The administration says that it will ask the “competent authority” about our request.

12 September 2017: Second follow up email with the French administration

BLOOM follows up with the administration, wondering what that “competent authority” is, to which the administration replies on 20 October — over a month later — that the required data extraction can no longer be performed.

9 February 2018: BLOOM sends sixth and last formal request to French administration

We urge the French administration to provide us with the definitive and complete file of EFF beneficiaries, including the Axes, Measures, and Actions. We further ask the administration to disclose the name of the external service provider it used.

28 February 2018: Response from the French administration

The French administration still refuses to provides us with the requested data and confirms that the EFF being closed, they cannot accommodate our request.

3 April 2018: Letter from the Minister of agriculture and food

The Minister of Agriculture and food, Mr Stéphane Travert, follows up on the administration’s latest letter and confirms that the complete EFF file will not be communicated.

27 April 2018: BLOOM initiates second referral procedure

BLOOM seeks another position from the Commission on the access to administrative documents (pending)

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