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This is ClientEarth’s access to information request (AIR) to the Council, regarding the setting of fishing limits for 2017 during the December Council process in 2016. This AIR – alongside a series of other AIRs and confirmatory applications regarding the December Council processes from 2016 to 2018 – culminated in a complaint to the European Ombudsman regarding the lack of transparency of the December Council decision-making process.
The Council’s initial AIR response and our confirmatory application following this are available here and here. The Council’s response to our confirmatory application is available in three parts, here, here and here.
A related AIR submitted by Seas At Risk to the Commission, regarding so-called “quota top-ups” in the context of the landing obligation, can be found here, and the Commission’s response is available here. The Commission disclosed 9 documents in response to this AIR, which can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
Further background to ClientEarth’s AIRs and the process leading to the final Ombudsman decision is provided below and in this web story, and an Excel spreadsheet with a detailed directory of all files submitted and received throughout ClientEarth’s AIR work regarding the December Council processes 2016-2020 is available here.
For a number of years, ClientEarth and other NGOs have been submitting access to information requests (AIRs) regarding the setting of fishing limits, or Total Allowable Catches (TACs), by the Council of EU fisheries ministers during the annual December Council process. These AIRs and our advocacy around their findings were geared towards shedding light on this notoriously opaque decision-making process and ultimately improving transparency. This is crucial to ensure civil society can effectively follow and engage in the process and assess the extent to which decisions are in line with science and the law, and to hold fisheries ministers accountable for their decisions. As ClientEarth’s report shows, the Council has been continuously setting TACs above scientifically advised sustainable levels for many years.
Following three years of such AIRs (regarding the December Council processes 2016-2018) to both the Council and the Commission (see section 5 of this report for details), ClientEarth submitted a complaint to the European Ombudsman regarding the lack of transparency of the December Council process. The Ombudsman agreed with our concerns and recommended that "The Council should proactively make public documents related to the adoption of the TAC Regulation at the time they are circulated to Member States or as soon as possible thereafter". Following reactions from ClientEarth and the Council to this conclusion, the Ombudsman confirmed her initial finding of maladministration and reiterated her recommendation. However, the Council refused to accept the Ombudsman’s findings and implement her recommendation.