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24th Sep 2018

EU appoints tobacco lobbyist to top ethics panel

  • Petite (r) signs EU agreement on cigarette smuggling with the then Philip Morris CEO, Andre Calantzopoulos, in 2004 (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

The European Commission has attracted criticism for reappointing a tobbaco lobbyist to its ethics committee on lobbying.

It gave the job to Michel Petite - a French lawyer at the London-based firm Clifford Chance, who works for US tobacco giant Philip Morris - just before Christmas.

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As part of the three-man ethics panel, he will advise the EU executive if it is OK for former commissioners to join private companies in the same sector as their old portfolios.

Petite already sat on the committee from 2009 to 2012.

He is himself a former EU official - he used to run the commission's legal service and to advise comission chief Jose Manuel Barroso before leaving in 2007.

His work for Philip Morris came to light in the recent "Dalligate" affair.

When ex-health-comissioner John Dalli lost his post over allegations that he solicited a bribe from a tobacco firm, MEPs quizzed the commission about its contacts with tobacco lobbyists.

In one of its written answers (no. 15, page 36), the commission noted that Petite met with officials in September 2011 and September 2012.

"Petite mentioned that his law firm provided legal advice to a tobacco company (Philip Morris International) and set out his views on some legal issues of tobacco legislation," it said.

A former EU official told EUobserver: "He [is] very active in Brussels especially with the [commission's] legal service ... since his appearance legal opinions given by the legal services before were reversed."

Clifford Chance declined to comment.

Many law firms say their work with EU institutions is of a technical nature which should not be called lobbying.

But the Brussels-based NGO, Corporate Europe Observatory, is filing a complaint about Petite with the European Ombudsman.

"It is unacceptable for a tobacco lobbyist to be the commission's top ethics advisor ... This is a matter of common sense doubts about his independence and credibility," the group's Olivier Hoedeman told this website.

For her part, commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen said Petite has lived up to rules for ex-officials to "behave with integrity and discretion" in their post-EU careers.

"There is no reason to question Mr Petite's qualifications to fulfil his function as a member of the ad hoc ethical committee," she added.

The other people reappointed to the panel are Terry Wynn and Rafael Garcia-Valdecasas y Fernandez.

Wynn is a British former MEP who is now a Methodist preacher and who speaks on EU policy at academic events. Garcia-Valdecasas y Fernandez is a Spanish former judge at the EU court in Luxembourg.

The three men in 2010 said it was OK for erstwhile industry commissioner Gunther Verheugen to launch a lobby firm - The European Experience Company - two months after leaving his post.

It said nothing when ex-fisheries-commissioner Joe Borg joined a company which lobbies the EU on maritime policy.

It also had no objections when former internal market commissioner Charlie McCreevy, whose job involved transport policy, went to work for Irish airline Ryanair.

EU tobacco lobbying is 'David vs. Goliath'

The tobacco industry in Brussels spends over €5 million a year and employs around 100 lobbyists to influence EU legislation, says an anti-smoking group.

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