Friday

22nd Feb 2019

MEPs unhappy with commission secrecy on Dalli affair

  • Olaf library - parliament lawyers are looking into who can and cannot read the Dalli file (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

MEPs are refusing to take No for an answer from the European Commission on access to a report on John Dalli.

German Liberal MEP Michael Theurer, the head of the budget control committee, told EUobserver on Wednesday (7 November) that political groups have asked parliament President Martin Schulz to "insist" on "full access" to a report by the EU's anti-fraud office, Olaf, on why the former health commissioner lost his job.

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

Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso, in a letter to Schulz on 30 October, said he is legally bound to withhold the file.

"It's not a question of the commission refusing access to the report, it's a question of the commission fulfilling its legal obligations," his spokeswoman, Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen, told this website.

An EU source familiar with the Barroso letter said it gave some extra details on the affair.

Barroso explained that Olaf interviewed Dalli twice on allegations that a middleman tried to solicit a bribe from tobacco firm Swedish Match and that Dalli's lawyer came to one of the Olaf meetings.

Barroso added that he first spoke with Dalli on the subject on 25 July and again on 16 October.

Dalli denied any knowledge of the middleman's activities at both meetings. But the Olaf report showed evidence he had contact with tobacco lobbyists and the middleman outside his official channels. Barroso repeated that Dalli resigned of his own accord and that he had time to tell his family before a press release went out - claims which Dalli denies.

Barroso also cited article 9(2) of Olaf regulation 1073/1999 and EU court case T-48/05 Franchet and Byk to say that only the Maltese attorney general can give access to the Olaf report because it now forms part of a Maltese criminal investigation.

The prospect of MEPs getting anything from Valetta is slim, however.

The Maltese attorney general told EUobserver in a written statement that Malta's criminal code only allows access to documents "once the investigation ... has been concluded" and that there is no fixed time frame for police to complete their work.

Parliament lawyers are currently studying the issue.

But there seems to be room for doubt on Barroso's line.

Asked by this website whether the commission can legally comply with Schulz' request, Olaf spokesman Johan Wullt indicated that it can, so long as it complies with regulation 45/2001 on protection of personal data and so long as it is "necessary or legally required on important public interest grounds."

He noted that the report is classified as "Olaf special handling" - a unique designation which falls outside EU Council rules on confidential papers, such as making sure that MEPs are security-vetted by their home countries' intelligence services before gaining access.

The dispute over the Olaf report comes amid a swirl of conspiracy theories.

Dalli himself has suggested the tobacco industry engineered the scandal to delay the adoption of his draft bill on tobacco control.

A former tobacco lobbyist in the EU capital told EUobserver that the case is bigger than Swedish Match.

The contact said that US firms Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds, which, like the Swedish company, make snus, a form of mouth tobacco, also want the EU to lift its ban on snus sales. But Swedish Match is spearheading the campaign because the US firms have such a toxic reputation that EU officials refuse to meet them directly.

For her part, German Liberal MEP Ingeborg Grassle at a budgetary committee hearing on Tuesday raised the prospect of convening a special committee of enquiry into the affair.

"There is a feeling that there might be something politically delicate for the commission in this whole business," another MEP, who asked to remain anonymous, noted.

Tuesday's hearing also saw members of Olaf's supervisory board shed light on procedural irregularities in the case.

The board is the only oversight body on Olaf's work. But its new head, Belgian special police chief Johan Denolf, complained to MEPs that it got the Dalli report only after it had been forwarded to commission secretary general Catherine Day. He added that Day got to see the full text, while the board got a redacted version with some content blacked out.

"If the EU's data protection supervisor says these details should be suppressed, then how come Day gets to see it but the Olaf board does not?" committee chair Theurer noted.

Meanwhile, the former head of the Olaf oversight team, ex-EU-judge Christiaan Timmermans, who resigned from his Olaf board top post shortly after Dalli lost his job, told MEPs he did it for "personal reasons."

"He insists that the personal reasons should stay personal," Theurer added.

Big tobacco distorted EU treaty, scientists say

One of the biggest tobacco manufacturers in the world led a group of chemical, food, oil and other firms in a lobbying strategy to shape EU policy making, a fresh study says.

News in Brief

  1. Report: Russia offered Italy's Salvini €3m for EU election
  2. EU and US could 'quickly' clinch mini-trade pact
  3. Belgium to gather evidence on Syria 'foreign fighters'
  4. Dozens of Tory and Labour MPs threatening to quit over Brexit
  5. UK will struggle on free-trade deals, EU says
  6. Juncker pledges climate action alongside Swedish activist
  7. Swedbank brings in external help on money laundering revelations
  8. No-deal Brexit danger 'very serious', Corbyn says after Brussels meeting

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  2. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  3. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  5. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  7. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  8. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups

Latest News

  1. Swedish activist urges EU to double climate goals
  2. EP budget chair seeks clarity on Saudi lobbying and College of Europe
  3. Microsoft warns EU on election hack threat
  4. Brexit talks to continue after May-Juncker meeting
  5. Trump and Kurz: not best friends, after all
  6. EU commission appeals Dieselgate ruling
  7. 'No burning crisis' on migrant arrivals, EU agency says
  8. 'No evidence' ECB bond-buying helped euro economy

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us