Monday

22nd Jan 2018

MEP defends confidentiality of tobacco meeting

  • It's unclear if delegates were allowed to smoke during the talks (Photo: Daniel de André)

MEPs discussed EU deals with four tobacco firms behind closed doors in Brussels on Wednesday (27 January), while saying they have nothing to hide.

German MEP Ingeborg Graessle, who organised the meeting, defended its secrecy, but not everyone thought it was needed.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The MEPs and the tobacco executives spoke at the representation office of the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg.

Following the official end-time of the meeting, at 5.30PM, people could be seen exiting the office at the EU neighbourhood's traffic-intensive Rue Belliard, and entering the rainy, already dark evening.

“Honestly, I don't know,” said one man who attended the event, when this website asked him why it couldn’t be held in public. He described the roundtable discussion - about the value of the four so-called Tobacco Agreements - as being “normal”, but would not elaborate.

A woman, carrying a binder with the words “tobacco agreements” written on them, said it was just “an exchange of views”.

Since 2004, the EU and its members have signed deals with the four largest cigarette firms: Philip Morris International (PMI), Japan Tobacco International (JTI), British American Tobacco (BAT), and Imperial Tobacco Limited (ITL).

The accords involve the companies transferring money to the EU and national budgets, in exchange for cooperation in the fight against cigarette smuggling and counterfeiting.

The first deal, with Philip Morris International (PMI), is set to expire in July 2016.

The European Commission is currently drafting an assessment of the PMI deal, although it has said “the main findings will broadly apply also to the other three anti-fraud cooperation agreements, with BAT, JTI and ITL respectively”.

On Monday (25 January), EU budget commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, apologised to members of the parliament's budgetary control committee for the delay in the assessment's publication, which will be the basis for deciding whether or not to go for a renewal.

Wednesday's meeting was titled “Assessment of the EU Tobacco Agreements in the context of the global and EU instruments to fight illicit trade in tobacco”.

Graessle, a German centre-right deputy who chairs the budgetary control committee, organised the event.

“I wanted an assessment of what stakeholders think of the agreements,” she told this website after coming out onto Rue Belliard. From under her umbrella, Graessle said she “mainly asked questions”.

The meeting was attended by MEPs, the tobacco firms, NGOs, the EU's anti-fraud agency Olaf, and representatives of the World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Graessle said it wasn’t easy to organise the event. She said that by having the meeting behind closed doors, the discussion was more open.

“Some people did not want to be quoted”, she said.

Another reason for the secrecy was that MEPs “got insight into confidential documents,” she added.

“I quoted them [the documents], and didn't want to be quoting them in public,” the German MEP noted. She said that all participants “found it useful” to have the meeting, and that she “learned a lot”.

“Now I understand why the assessment is not yet published,” she said about the commission's report.

The meeting was held at Baden-Wuerttemberg office instead of in the European Parliament for prosaic reasons, she added.

“It can be complicated to get a room in the parliament,” noted Graessle, who used to be active as a politician for the German Christian Democratic Union in Baden-Wuerttemberg.

She had also hoped the location would create a “nice environment” to facilitate the debate. “Normally there is tension between the tobacco NGOs and industry,” she said.

Her attempt was only partly successful, she noted, adding that there was, at times, “fierce debate” between the two sides.

She said “it's not that we have something to hide”, but that did not hold true for all participants.

A group of four men exiting the building mentioned the name of Bart Staes, a Belgian left-wing MEP who has been critical of the accords.

When this website approached them, they went almost silent. “Not really”, one of them said when EUobserver asked if they wanted to say anything about the meeting.

“We will respect madam Graessle's wish that it was a non-public meeting,” another said. They did not want to identify whom they represent.

EU needs more time to assess €1 billion tobacco deal

The commission was expected to publish by the end of 2015 its report on the deal, which will expire in July and which has made the EU, member states and tobacco company PMI allies in the fight against cigarette smuggling.

Investigation

Scant evidence EU tobacco deal curbed smuggling

A ‘landmark’ agreement with tobacco company PMI was supposed to bring down cigarette smuggling. But it is very difficult to estimate the success of the deal, which is up for renewal in 2016.

MEPs split on tobacco deal with PMI

With less than five months until a deal with tobacco company PMI expires, MEPs and commissioner Georgieva discussed how to fight illegal cigarette trade after its expiration date.

News in Brief

  1. Abbas in Brussels to discuss Palestinian state recognition
  2. Exiled Catalan leader leaves Belgium for first time
  3. CSU politicians set to oppose concessions to SPD
  4. Greek mass protests against use of 'Macedonia' in name dispute
  5. Oxfam report reveals inequality as Davos elite gather
  6. Macron: France would probably have voted to quit EU
  7. Germany confirms attendance at air quality summit
  8. Nearly half of 'fixed' Dieselgate cars show problems

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  2. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersOresund Inspires Other EU Border Regions to Work Together to Generate Growth
  4. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  5. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Calls on EU to Sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Expel Ambassadors
  6. Dialogue PlatformRoundtable on "Political Islam, Civil Islam and The West" 31 January
  7. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  8. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  9. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society
  10. ACCAWelcomes the Start of the New Bulgarian Presidency
  11. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li and President Tusk Stress Importance of Ties at ASEM Summit
  12. EU2017EEVAT on Electronic Commerce: New Rules Adopted

Latest News

  1. How Oettinger's CO2 permit sale could fill Brexit blackhole
  2. New Polish foreign minister tries to charm EU commission
  3. Middle East, Messi and missing MEPs on the agenda This WEEK
  4. Instagram and Google Plus join EU anti-hate speech drive
  5. EU wants 'entrepreneurship' in education systems
  6. UK loses EU satellite centre to Spain
  7. Pay into EU budget for market access, Macron tells May
  8. Ethiopian regime to get EU migrants' names

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressChair of EU Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism Condemns Wave of Attacks
  2. Counter BalanceA New Study Challenges the Infrastructure Mega Corridors Agenda
  3. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  4. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% Plastics Recycling Rate Attainable by 2025 New Study Shows
  5. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  6. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  7. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  8. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  10. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  11. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  12. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap