A senior French official is being accused of conflicts of interest for spearheading a leading role in Europeche, a fishing-industry lobby group based in Brussels.
Anne-France Mattlet, who spent over five years in the French administration dealing with international ocean governance and tuna-related policies, will be working for Europeche and its French-equivalent Orthongel for one year before returning to her government post.
“Basically she was placed by France for a year within Europeche and Orthongel for a mission, which we think is to avoid France going to court with the European Commission,” said Frédéric Le Manach from the Paris-based NGO Bloom, which campaigns against overfishing in the oceans.
France and the European Commission are at loggerheads over EU fishing rules, which aims to prevent illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
The commission says Paris has failed to ensure effective monitoring and control of the French external fleet, especially when it comes to a so-called ‘margin of tolerance’ of 10 percent per individual fish species.
That 10 percent margin means a boat which catches 100 tonnes of Yellow Fin tuna, can declare 90 tonnes.
The commission sent a formal legal notice against France last year, a move that precedes taking Paris to the European Court of Justice.
For her part, Mattlet represented French interests at the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, an intergovernmental organisation, and where she chaired the compliance committee until March of this year.
In April, she started her new role at Europeche where she heads the division dealing with tuna.
Part of her task includes tweaking the margins of tolerance, so that the 10 percent will cover the entire catch and not just by species, as cited in the European Commission’s legal complaint.
Asked for a comment, a consultancy service responding on her behalf stated Mattlet had no insider or private knowledge of the commission’s legal complaint while working for the French administration.
They also said that she had no industry contact while chairing the compliance committee at the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission.
“It was about compliance of the parties, not the fishermen,” they said. “She was therefore only in contact, with the states during the 3/4 days of the meeting,” they said, in an email.
In a separate statement, they also accused “militant NGOs” of carrying out a disinformation campaign over bogus conflicts of interest claims.
But Bloom along with the French anti-corruption association, Anticor, have denounced her move and have since informed the French public prosector. Along with pro-transparency campaigners Corporate Europe Observatory, Bloom also filed a formal complaint with the EU Transparency Register.
They say her new post is a conflict of interest and a case of ‘revolving doors’, whereby a public official lands a job in the private sector dealing with the same issues they legislated on.
Public officials in France are required to have a three-year cooling off period before they can go into the private sector.
But Frédéric Le Manach says Mattlet got clearance because the French ethics committee views Europeche as a civil society organisation on par to an NGO. This comes despite Europeche’s president, Javier Garat, declaring Mattlet’s presence at the lobby group “as a valuable asset to our companies”.
France ‘dupes’ MEPs
Meanwhile, the margin of tolerance will be discussed among the EU co-legislators next week behind closed doors. Those talks are part of the EU fisheries control regulation reform, an enforcement and monitoring law.
The European Parliament is seeking to possibly expand the margin of tolerance for tuna to 25 percent.
That figure was introduced as amendment at the committee level by Isabel Carvalhais, a Portuguese socialist MEP. But when the amendment was presented to the plenary, she voted against it.
“I voted indeed negatively for an amendment initially proposed by myself,” she told EUobserver. The change of mind followed an analysis and socialist party loyalty, she said.
Bloom says the real reason is that she had been duped into believing that the margin only applied to small scale fisheries.
“They realised that they had been fooled by France. It was a very big win for the tuna industry,” said Le Manach.