Wednesday

22nd May 2019

Big tobacco distorted EU treaty, scientists say

  • EU commission staff were unaware that BAT was linked to the campaign, the study says (Photo: EUobserver)

One of the biggest tobacco manufacturers in the world led a group of chemical, food, oil, pharmaceutical and other firms in a successful long-term lobbying strategy to shape European Union policy making in their favour, a new study says.

After trawling through some 700 internal documents from British American Tobacco (BAT), academics at the University of Bath and University of Edinburgh say they have found evidence that the cigarette giant in the mid-1990s teamed up with the European Policy Centre, the prominent Brussels think-tank, to create a front group to ensure that the EU framework for evaluating policy options emphasised business interests at the expense of public health.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

According to the study, published in the Public Library of Science Medicine journal and funded by the Smoke-Free Partnership and Cancer Research UK, BAT constructed a policy network of a series of major corporations, including Shell, Zeneca, Tesco, SmithKline Beecham, Bayer and Unilever, to mount a multi-year lobby campaign aiming at shaping the EU's impact assessment system.

There are a number of impact assessment systems, which are tools for evaluating potential legislative changes, each emphasising different aspects of the ramifications of a government choosing a particular law over another. Some place great weight on environmental or health impacts, while others on the financial fall-out sustained by industry.

Impact assessments as a whole, which work by assigning monetary values to both the costs and benefits of a particular policy, are criticised by the study authors because costs to business are relatively easily quantifiable, while other, more fundamental impacts - such as lives lost or harmed - are much less so.

The form of impact assessment pushed in this period by BAT and its front group - and the one ultimately embraced by the EU via changes to the EU Treaty in the Treaty of Amsterdam - was so desired, according to the survey, because they believed that it would hamper the introduction of public smoking restrictions and those against tobacco advertising.

The scientists uncovered BAT documents that revealed that senior managers had learnt that this form of impact assessment had been successfully used by cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris in the US for the same purposes.

BAT asked a UK consultancy, Charles Barker, to work out the advantages of pushing such an approach at the UK and EU levels, the study says. According to the scientists, the firm warned BAT that they would need to tread carefully, lobbying through a "front" organisation and enlisting other "big industry names" in support, in particular the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

The aim of BAT's campaign was to make its preferred form of assessment legally binding within EU policymaking by securing changes to the EU Treaty.

One internal document highlighted by the study reads: "In no country in the world are governments required, in practice, to justify their actions through effective cost-benefit analysis, underpinned by rigorous risk assessment. An opportunity to promote such a requirement was identified in the European Union (EU) ...British American Tobacco and BAT Industries recognised that a broad coalition of like-minded companies might be able to persuade member states into amending the Treaty, imposing a binding requirement for cost benefit analysis and risk assessment."

In order to win such a change, from 1996 onwards, say the scientists, BAT "relied heavily" on the European Policy Centre (EPC), while also sometimes working with the Weinberg Group, a consultancy firm that had been involved with Philip Morris.

The EPC then went on to form the front group, the "Risk Assessment Forum" on behalf of the tobacco company and its allies, with both BAT and the EPC working to recruit other companies to join the Forum, the new research says.

The UK was regarded by BAT as the EU member state most committed to its preferred impact assessment as it was the country that ultimately submitted the change to the treaty for consideration by other governments.

As a result, the UK presidency of the EU in the first half of 1998 was viewed as a "window of opportunity" in which BAT, the EPC and the Weinberg Group, with support from other companies, organised a conference on the subject. One keynote speaker at the conference was Steve Milloy, executive director of the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, described by the authors of the study as having been linked to Philip Morris' campaign to rubbish scientific findings it did not like.

Ultimately, BAT's campaign was successful, helping to secure the treaty amendment it sought, and, due to working through a major think-tank and setting up a front group, managing to avoid the perception that big tobacco was behind the policy shift. The authors of the study interviewed European Commission staff who revealed no awareness that the tobacco industry had been behind the campaign.

BAT for its part said in response to the publication of the study: "The EU invites all interested parties to submit their views before making new policies and we are happy to share our views, as we believe the best policies are the ones which take into account a range of positions."

"The authors of this report seem to be suggesting that only people who agree with their own point of view should be allowed to voice an opinion," said BAT spokeswoman Kate Matrunola.

Hans Martens, the chief executive of EPC said that the events referred to in the study occurred before he joined the organisation in 2002: "I do not know what might have been happening in the years before I joined."

Mr Martens said that at the time, EPC, then called Belmont EPC, was a consultancy, "I suppose that is where the activities originally took place."

He said that when he took over, the Risk Forum was still in operation, but he shut it down. "It only had corporate members, and therefore I decided to stop its activities because everything we do is multi-constituency-based, which means that we have different stakeholders involved.

"If a subject does not have a broader interest, we don't do it. [This] is our policy since 2002."

"[EPC] is truly independent organisation. It operates on the basis of multi-stakeholder engagement and we do not represent any of the members' interests at all," he continued. "BAT is one of the members, but not very active in EPC, and they do not get any special favours, as no other member organisation does."

"I am quite upset about the allegations as they do not reflect what EPC stands for today."

Think-tanks throughout the European capital have consistently refused to join the European Commission's lobby registry, arguing that think-tanks do not engage in "lobbying." The EPC, however, was the first think-tank to sign up.

EU commissioner pleads innocence

The EU health commissioner at the centre of a tobacco lobbying scandal has spoken out to newspapers and on TV to protest his innocence.

EU top court backs Canada trade deal in ruling

The European Court of Justice ruled on Tuesday that the EU-Canada free trade agreement, and its controversial dispute settlement mechanism, is in line with the bloc's rules.

EU and Japan in delicate trade talks

The Japanese PM comes to Brussels to discuss the first results of the new EU-Japan free trade deal, plus WTO reform - a sensitive topic before he moves onto Washington to face Donald Trump.

News in Brief

  1. Poll: Denmark set to double number of liberal MEPs
  2. European brands 'breaking' chemical safety rules
  3. Report: Merkel was lobbied to accept EU top job
  4. May struggling to get Brexit deal passed at fourth vote
  5. German MPs show interest in 'Magnitsky' sanctions
  6. CoE: Rights violations in Hungary 'must be addressed'
  7. EU affairs ministers rubber-stamp new ban on plastics
  8. Private companies campaign to boost turnout in EU poll

Feature

Romania enlists priests to promote euro switchover plan

Romania is due to join the single currency in 2024 - despite currently only meeting one of the four criteria. Now the government in Bucharest is enlisting an unlikely ally to promote the euro to the public: the clergy.

Trump and Kurz: not best friends, after all

The visit of Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz to the White House on Wednesday showed that the current rift in transatlantic relations is deepening by the day.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  2. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us