04 July 2013
REVELATIONS FROM THE SECRET AND RUTHLESS REPORT OF THE FRENCH COURT OF AUDITORS ON STATE AID TO FISHERIES
04 July 2013
The magazine Le Nouvel Observateur reveals today a crucial and explosive report by the Court of Auditors on State aid granted to the fisheries sector between 2000 and 2009. BLOOM has long sought this report, the existence of which had been mentioned in a meeting by an employee of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in 2010.
“There was no way at the time to find traces of this report, that we have renamed “the mystery report”. As none of our requests has been successful, we concluded that either the rumor of its existence was unfounded, or it had been classified confidential” summarizes Claire Nouvian, founder of BLOOM, an NGO engaged in the search for sustainable solutions for the oceans, both in terms of resources and ecosystems as in terms of employment, which should be, according to BLOOM, a priority in the governance of European fisheries.
In 2008, Ifremer scientist Benoitît Mesnil drew up a ruthless assessment of thirty years of State aid to France’s fishing sector. His work, “Public-aided crises in the French fishing sector”, which appeared in the scientific journal Ocean and Coastal Management, had drawn the ire of the sector and of the presidency of the Ifremer, and was almost stifled by the French fishing lobbies and public authorities. Benoît Mesnil showed that public subsidies were given to the fishing sector without logic, objectives, or control mechanisms, and that they were primarily the result of fishing professionals or their representatives putting pressure on the State authorities. Mesnil showed that the sum of financial aid to fisheries was nearly as high as the value generated by the sector (around 800 million euros of aid per year for 1.1 billion of turnover).
Finally, Mesnil described the “taboo” of public fisheries subsidies in France. The secret report of the Court of Auditors, made available on the website of Le Nouvel Observateur, does not escape this code of silence. What was so dangerous about this report that the Court of Auditors, whose mission is to monitor government action, evaluate public policies, and inform citizens, agreed to cover it up?
The report shows that France’s fishing sector survives only because of massive public funds. Thus, in 2008, excluding industrial fleets for which data was not available, financial aid totaled 2.5 times the sector’s average gross operating profit (GOP), and four times its net income after tax! The Court of Auditors’ report is a real indictment against France’s Directorate of Fisheries and Aquaculture (Direction des Pêches Maritimes et de l’Aquaculture, or DPMA), stating that it “does not have an exhaustive overview of aid allocated to the fishing sector, because it does not know what subsidies are given by local authorities,” (the report calls local aid a “black hole”). The Court’s assessment concludes that subsidies “exceed the turnover of the sector, if social protection aid is included”. And if it is not included, subsidies represent “a significant part of the turnover, and probably over three times their gross operating profit, excluding tax expenditure and aid from local authorities.”
The Court of Auditors’ analysis also denounces the inconsistency of public subsidies, which do not meet the objectives set by the European Commission, and their counterproductive nature because they have failed to protect jobs, to conserve natural resources and ecosystems, and to curb the economic erosion of the sector.
Instead, they have made the fishing sector less resistant to fluctuating fuel oil prices, by preventing conversions to different fishing methods. Public subsidies have thus “contributed to the excessive pressure on fish stocks over the many years when construction and modernization subsidies prevailed and increased fishing capacity”. The increased fishing effort “eventually causes contraction of fish stocks, decreased catch, and lower profitability for businesses.”
This last point is instrumental in the current context, because the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee is preparing to vote (on July 10, 2013) on the report prepared by French MEP Alain Cadec concerning the financial instrument for European fisheries (the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, or EMFF). A sum of a minimum of 6.5 billion euros, to be allocated between 2014 and 2020, is at stake. However, Alain Cadec proposes that vessel construction subsidies should be reintroduced, despite their being banned in Europe since 2005, because of their harmful effects.
“Under the pretext of renewal of the aging artisanal fleet and energy savings, the measure that Cadec proposes is entirely in line with the French and EU tradition of providing economic assistance to a sector that actually requires intense restructuring to make it socio-economically and ecologically sustainable, and to ensure operational viability”, reacts Claire Nouvian, director of BLOOM.
“Elected officials and public authorities are therefore responsible for the failure of the fishing sector, which is unable to survive without the massive financial injections transferred from healthy and profitable economic sectors”, continues Claire Nouvian. “This report is a bombshell, at a time when MEPs are about to vote on a report which basically proposes to repeat the past mistakes that have caused the demise of the fishing sector and of marine ecosystems.”
For public authorities, aid policies to the fishing sector fulfill one key objective: to buy short-term social peace. The short term also comes first for the fishing sector, which prioritizes the survival of businesses, the protection of investments, and the maintenance of the current economic and ecological model, even though it can only worsen the situation. Despite the painfully evident failure of past and current governance, and without even going through the essential steps of self-analysis and evaluation of the effectiveness of the policies used, French and EU officials and governments envisage reproducing recipes for disaster.
You can find BLOOM’s first analysis of the report (available since July 3 on the website of the Nouvel Observateur) Analysis-Secret-Report-French-Court-Auditors
Read it in spanish : Las-ayudas-francesas-a-la-pesca
Read it in italian : Rivelazione-rapporto-segreto-BLOOM