Institutional Affairs

Dalli lawyers say Barroso trampled his rights

08.07.14 @ 20:35

  1. By Nikolaj Nielsen
  2. Nikolaj email
  3. Nikolaj Twitter

LUXEMBOURG - In the second and final day of a public hearing in the John Dalli vs. the European Commission case at the EU Court in Luxembourg, lawyers traded barbs about the legal basis on which the former commissioner left his job in disgrace in 2012.

  • Dalli at the Luxembourg court (Photo: euobserver.com)

Dalli says European Commission boss Jose Manuel Barroso pressured him into tendering his resignation, wants the court to annul it, and is seeking €1.9 million in “material damages” amid broader allegations he solicited bribes from the tobacco industry.

The money includes lost wages for the remainder of his term as commissioner.

His lawyers on Tuesday (8 July) said he was left no option but to resign, and that his fundamental right for a fair hearing was violated.

They say commission Barroso arranged a meeting on 16 October 2012 with the pre-meditated decision to get rid Dalli regardless of what Dalli said.

“He [Dalli] was facing a fait accompli,” Dalli’s lawyer told the panel of five judges.

They said Dalli went into the meeting with no knowledge of Barroso’s intentions, and that he had no opportunity to contest the tobacco graft allegations outlined in a report given to Barroso by the EU’s anti-fraud office, Olaf.

Dalli’s lawyers noted that Barroso should have invoked his EU treaty powers instead of psychological pressure if he wanted to make him leave.

But Barroso’s attorneys said the commission chief didn’t have to make reference to the treaty because Dalli resigned of his own free will without any coercion.

The niceties of Dalli’s departure are important in political and legal terms.

On a political level, a voluntary resignation has fewer reputational implications than a forced resignation.

On a legal level, a forced resignation requires the president to invoke article 17.6 in the treaty on the European Union.

The article states “a member of the Commission shall resign if the President so requests.”

Because Barroso did not invoke or make reference to the article, then the resignation is not valid, say Dalli’s side.

Dalli’s lawyers also noted that Olaf did not followed internal rules of procedure when it forwarded its report to the Maltese authorities without allowing the Olaf supervisory committee enough time review their investigation.

The supervisory committee was given one day to look at Olaf’s probe into Dalli.

It is supposed to have five days, and the committee, in an review published later, found major flaws.

Barroso should have asked himself if Olaf had conducted its investigation properly beforehand, say Dalli’s lawyers.

The commission had also prepared two draft press releases announcing Dalli’s resignation.

One, which was issued to the public, said he left office voluntarily. A second, which was not released, said he was forced to resign.

Dalli’s lawyers say the fact the commission had not prepared a third release contesting the Olaf allegations suggest Barroso had no other intention but to force him out.

The European Commission, for its part, dismissed all the arguments.

They said the commission has no legal right to approach the supervisory committee or contest Olaf in order to respect their full independence.

They also noted the committee’s five day review period is an informal agreement with Olaf and therefore has no legal bearing.

The commission lawyers said no third press release was prepared to defend Dalli because there is little news value in informing journalists that a commissioner had not left his post.

They added that Dalli was fully aware of the issues at hand when he met Barroso.

They point out Dalli had been interviewed twice by Olaf and spoken to Barroso once about the events over the course of several months from the launch of the investigation in May.

The commission, for its part, wants Dalli to drop the legal action and pay all associated legal costs.

A verdict is expected six to nine months down the line.