Thursday

23rd Nov 2017

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.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

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.

MEP switches vote on 'private expenses' transparency

A small group of MEPs are looking into how members of the European Parliament spend the monthly €4,300 'private expenses' funded by taxpayer money. Last month, MEPs voted on transparency amendments on the funds.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Ministers Pledge to Work More Closely at Nordic and EU Level
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaLaunch of Honorary Council on the Occasion of the Eastern Partnership Summit and CEPA
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Leaders Should Press Azerbaijan President to End the Detention of Critics
  4. CECEKey Stakeholders to Jointly Tackle the Skills Issue in the Construction Sector
  5. Idealist Quarterly"Dear Politics, Time to Meet Creativity!" Afterwork Discussion & Networking
  6. Mission of China to the EUAmbassador Zhang Ming Received by Tusk; Bright Future for EU-China Relations
  7. EU2017EEEstonia, With the ECHAlliance, Introduces the Digital Health Society Declaration
  8. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement For All Families? Same Sex Couple Ask EU Court for Recognition
  9. European Jewish CongressEJC to French President Macron: We Oppose All Contact With Far-Right & Far-Left
  10. EPSUWith EU Pillar of Social Rights in Place, Time Is Ticking for Commission to Deliver
  11. ILGA EuropeBan on LGBTI Events in Ankara Must Be Overturned
  12. Bio-Based IndustriesBio-Based Industries: European Growth is in Our Nature!

Latest News

  1. EU awaits UK proposals in final push for Brexit breakthrough
  2. Berlin risks being 'culprit' for stalling EU, warns Green MEP
  3. Eastern partners, eastern problems
  4. Germany's Schulz under pressure to enter coalition talks
  5. LuxLeaks trial re-opens debate on whistleblowers' protection
  6. Wilders says Russia is 'no enemy' ahead of Moscow visit
  7. EU must put Sudan under microscope at Africa summit
  8. Mali blames West for chaos in Libya

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformErdogan's Most Vulnerable Victims: Women and Children
  2. UNICEFEuropean Parliament Marks World Children's Day by Launching Dialogue With Children
  3. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  4. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  6. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  7. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  8. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Calls for Closer Co-Operation on Foreign Policy
  10. Swedish EnterprisesTrilogue Negotiations - Striking the Balance Between Transparency and Efficiency
  11. Access EuropeProspects for US-EU Relations Under the Trump Administration - 28 November 2017
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable Growth the Nordic Way: Climate Solutions for a Sustainable Future