28th Sep 2023

Spanish EU presidency signs 'unacceptable' carmakers deal

  • Currently, there are no rules on sponsorship for the EU Council presidency other than best-practice guidelines adopted in 2021 (Photo: European Union)
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The Spanish EU Council presidency has signed sponsorship deals with car-makers Volkswagen and Renault, despite long-standing calls to end the controversial practice.

The auto giants will provide some 180 hybrid and electric cars (90 Volkswagen and 90 Renault) to transport delegations invited to informal meetings during the coming six months of the EU presidency. The logos of the Spanish presidency will be featured in these cars.

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About 90 percent of these cars are hybrid since there are not so many EV charging stations across the country.

"This collaboration was offered to all carmakers in Spain and we only accepted agreements with the ones that build sustainable vehicles," sources close to the matter told EUobserver.

The agreements are built on the best-practice guidelines for the EU Council presidency on the use of sponsorship approved by member states in 2021, a Spanish EU official said.

While these "partnerships" do not involve cash payments directly, these types of collaborations between EU institutions and industry giants have prompted concerns over the damage to perceptions of the EU.

Alberto Alemanno, professor of EU law at HEC Paris, said that these types of agreements raise the same issues as sponsorship offered to public authorities as these brands receive "special treatment" during and even after the presidency of a country.

Collaborations with carmakers are especially controversial due to the EU's green agenda.

Paradoxically, advancing the green transition is one of Spain's priorities during the presidency.

"In the climate crisis, it cannot be acceptable for governments to have collaboration agreements with car companies and other fossil-fuel guzzlers," Vicky Cann, a campaigner from Corporate Europe Observatory told EUobserver.

"Unfortunately, the Spanish government follows the ignoble footsteps of almost all other recent council presidencies in prioritising corporate interests over its own integrity," she added.

In 2021, the French presidency also came under fire for its sponsorship with Renault and Stellantis, which owns Peugeot and Citroën.

Finland also made an agreement with BMW during its presidency in 2019.

Porsche Austria GmbH & Co OG, wholesaler for the brands Volkswagen, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, Audi, SEAT, ŠKODA and Porsche, was also part of the long list of sponsors of the 2018 Austrian EU presidency.

Currently, there are no rules on sponsorship for the EU Council presidency other than best-practice guidelines adopted in 2021 — as a response to the EU ombudsman recommendation related to a case that called for regulating or prohibiting such sponsorships. 

The guidelines, however, are widely seen as weak.

Calls for banning corporate sponsorships of any type have been growing over the last few years.

MEPs, the EU Ombudsman and NGOs have repeatedly raised concerns about the impact that corporate sponsorship deals have on public trust and the reputation of the EU Council, since EU presidencies represent and set the work programme of the institution.

"The reputational damage caused [by these collaborations] is greater than the economic benefit received by the member country," said Alemanno.

Likewise, Cann said that these types of sponsorships should be seen "as another tool in the influencing toolbox".

The Spanish presidency is also expected to sign agreements with the state-owned company Aena Airports, Renfe and Correos.

But the logos will not be displayed on Spain's EU presidency site. Once signed they will be published, according to transparency standards set in the guidelines.

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