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4th Feb 2023

MEP pension fund invested in oil giants behind eco-disasters

  • Oil spill in the Niger Delta (Photo: Sosialistisk Ungdom - SU)
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An MEP voluntary pension fund that will likely require a massive taxpayer bailout invested in petrol corporations behind major environmental disasters.

This includes the 2008 Bodo pipeline oil spill in Nigeria by Royal Dutch Shell, which destroyed some 1,000 hectares of mangroves and marine life.

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Less than a year later, the MEP pension fund purchased over £2.5m worth of shares of Royal Dutch Shell. Shell had also been accused of the 2001 Ogbodo oil spill, which dumped some 50,000 barrels into the Niger delta and at a time when the MEP fund held €950,000 in shares with the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company.

The seed money for the investments came from a controversial monthly allowance given to MEPs to cover office expenses. MEPs signed up the scheme, paid one-third into the pension from their allowance fund, with the European Parliament topping it up with a two-third contribution.

The first share purchases in the industry came in 1994, covering everything from Royal Dutch Shell to Repsol, a Spanish multinational energy and petrochemical company.

Overseen by an MEP staffed non-profit, which had set up a Luxembourg-based investment fund, the fossil-fuel driven investments continued up to at least 2010.

It is possible investments in the industry continue today — but the European Parliament is refusing to release more recent information on the investments.

An appeal for the disclosure, made by this website, was rejected by European Parliament vice-president Roberts Zile, who oversees document access requests.

He said the parliament's document "constitutes commercially sensitive information on the business strategy of this fund."

But Zile was also last October nominated to the board of directors of the members' voluntary pension fund, along with European Parliament vice-president Othmar Karas and MEP Janusz Lewandowski.

EUobserver can reveal that a large part of that business strategy between 1994 and 2010 leaned heavily on fossil fuels.

UN climate treaty in Cancun

The 2010 investments came at time when the United Nations held a climate treaty in Cancun, and while the European Parliament demanded the EU reduce CO2 emissions by 30 percent by 2020.

At the same time, the MEP pension scheme held €5.2m of shares in European petrochemical companies.

This included almost 10,000 shares in Total SA, 105,000 shares in Italian energy powerhouse Eni, Repsol (102,526), and OMV AG (31,297).

It also held £2.89m in Royal Dutch (115,922) and $2.4m shares in US-firms ConocoPhillips (16,100), Murphy Oil Corp (13,600), and National Oil Well Varco Inc (18,200).

The Repsol shares were also held when the giant was exploring for oil in a remote part of the Peruvian Amazon, spanning some 700,000 hectares of rainforests. The firm eventually sold the stake in 2014 following public pressure given the indigenous people in the area.

Lord Richard Balfe, a British national, chaired the board of the MEP pension fund up until the start of 2021. Asked about the ethics behind making investments in fossil fuels under his watch, as well as the weapons industry, he declined to respond.

"I retired as chair of the Pension Fund in 2021. I have therefore passed your query to my successor Stephen Hughes," he said, in an email last week.

Hughes did not respond.

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