Sunday

29th Mar 2020

Disgraced commissioner seeks help from EU parliament

  • Dalli (l) and Schulz during a previous meeting (Photo: europa.europarl.eu)

The ex-health-commissioner at the heart of a tobacco lobby scandal is to meet with European Parliament chief Martin Schulz on Tuesday (23 October) in Strasbourg to plead his innocence.

Dalli told EUobserver by phone on Monday: "I am not going there to seek any type of redress from Mr Schulz. I'm going to explain my position and to answer any questions ... I can't stand by when people are saying this case is closed. For me, the case has not even opened yet."

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The European Commission last Tuesday in a press release announced that Dalli resigned voluntarily in order to clear his name.

It also said the EU anti-fraud office, Olaf, had found "circumstantial evidence" that he knew and did not report that a Maltese middleman was asking a tobacco firm, Swedish Match, for money to fiddle his EU tobacco-control bill.

Looking back on his meeting with Barroso, Dalli said the commission is lying about what really happened.

"I walked into Barroso's office and he told me I had to resign. I spent an hour and a half with him telling him this is not the way to do it and with him saying I must resign or I will dismiss you," Dalli recalled.

"I went to the meeting without knowing the agenda and he [Barroso] sprang this on me. He didn't show me any [Olaf] papers. He read from a file he had and in these circumstances I asked for 24 hours to consult with my lawyers and to tell my family - why should my family find out what happened from a press release? He said 'I'm giving you 30 minutes' and this is the way it happened," he added.

"There wasn't any raising of voices on his part or mine."

In a follow up to events, Dalli sent a letter to Barroso on Sunday night.

The letter - published on Monday by New Europe, an online newspaper on EU affairs - says: "In our meeting you explicitly demanded (verbally), for my resignation ... I replied (also verbally) that I would resign."

It adds that Barroso should now send him an official letter invoking article 17.6 of the EU Treaty on resignation procedures and that "without such request on your part, there is no resignation."

For its part, the commission on Monday said there are two witnesses - the head of the commission's legal service and the head of Barroso's cabinet - who saw Dalli tell Barroso he is leaving "of his own free will."

Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly noted that Dalli will get an EU pension for the next three years because "we have no evidence of any illegal behaviour."

But he said it was right for Dalli to go because the Olaf report made him "politically untenable."

Calling Dalli an "ex-commissioner" several times, he added: "For us, this question of the resignation of John Dalli is behind us."

Is Dalli's law dead?

Dalli on Monday also sent a letter to MEPs.

The two-page text notes that lobbyists linked to Swedish Match in July this year offered to pay the middleman to set up a meeting with Dalli, casting doubt on the integrity of Swedish Match, which complained to the commission in May that the middleman was trying to squeeze it for cash.

The letter also mentioned Dalli's concern the whole affair is designed to kill his tobacco law.

"Please insist with the commission that this directive is launched as planned so that thousands of lives can be saved," he urged MEPs.

Dalli told this website that new "inter-service consultations" - internal commission talks on the bill - are unlikely to get going before February.

"This will put it out of the timetable for finalisation in this legislature because of the timetable of parliament and if this happens this directive is dead because it has to start all over again in the new legislature," he said.

He warned there is a risk that any new version of his bill could be "diluted."

He also said that prior to the scandal "there was an attempt to dissuade me from going ahead with certain measures" in the tobacco law.

He declined to go into details and he said he does not know if the tobacco lobby has friends in high places in the commission.

When asked if he thinks tobacco firms engineered his demise to kill the law, he answered: "It has passed my mind."

The commission's Bailly noted that it does not matter whether the inter-service talks start in December, January or February.

"The political commitment of the college [of commissioners] and of this institution to revise the tobacco law has not changed," he said.

Dalli's draft law - among other provisions - says 75 percent of cigarette packs should be covered by pictures of smoking-related diseases.

It also aims to ban cigarette displays in shops and to regulate tobacco flavourings, aimed at women, such as chocolate or strawberry.

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