Thursday

22nd Oct 2020

Tobacco lawyer steps down from EU ethics panel

  • Michel Petite (pictured left) works for Philip Morris at the Clifford Chance law firm (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

A corporate lawyer with Big Tobacco clients stepped down as head of the European Commission’s ad hoc ethics committee last week, but he says it has nothing to do with conflict of interest.

“I had informed the commission [of the resignation] in advance and this has been done in perfect agreement,” Michel Petite, who works for the Clifford Chance law firm, told this website from Paris on Friday (20 December).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The three-member ethical committee monitors departing commissioners who are looking for new jobs.

Set up in 2003, the idea is to make sure outgoing commissioners do not end up working on the same topics they legislated on.

EU ombudsman Emily O’Reilly upped the pressure for the committee to replace Petite after a handful of pro-transparency NGOs filed a complaint in February.

Petite headed the commission’s legal services in 2008, but then landed a job at Clifford Chance, where he specialises in competition law. Its clients include US tobacco firm Philip Morris.

O’Reilly said Petite’s position as a retired high-ranking commission official put the credibility of the committee at stake.

“It was difficult to argue that the client-related activities of the previous head did not constitute a potential conflict of interest,” she said in a statement.

But Petite says it has nothing to do with O’Reilly and with the NGOs’ complaint.

He told EUobserver he stepped down because of his workload.

“The prospect is that next year is the end of the [current] commission and that this committee will suddenly have a lot of work,” he said.

Petite, who was nominated for a "Worst EU Lobbying Award" by transparency campaigners in 2008, added that he does not do lobbying.

“I am not a lobbyist. I’m a lawyer in a law firm,” he said.

But pro-transparency campaigners take issue with the fact that his name cropped up in a tobacco lobbying scandal which led to the former Maltese commissioner for health, John Dalli, losing his post in October last year.

Swedish tobacco firm Swedish Match had accused a close Dalli associate of soliciting a large bribe in an effort to water down the commissioner’s draft bill on tobacco products.

It was Petite who linked Swedish Match to the commission’s secretariat general, Catherine Day.

“When I was contacted by a client of my law firm, I simply turned them to the right level of the commission, namely the secretariat general for a follow-up of what they had encountered,” he said.

Petite said his role in the Dalli affair ended there and that he had no other input on the issues which led to the commissioner’s departure in October 2012.

Petite took up his post as head of the ethics panel two months later.

The commission, for its part, said Petite stepped down on his own accord.

Former commission director general Nicolas van der Pas is set to become the committee’s new head.

Investigation

Violating promises and law, von der Leyen tests patience

Under EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, transparency was supposed to be a "guiding principle". Instead, the European Commission is asking Kafkaesque questions in response to an access to documents request, and failing to meet its legal deadline.

News in Brief

  1. Belarus opposition awarded 2020 Sakharov Prize
  2. Belgium's foreign minister in intensive care for Covid-19
  3. MEPs restrict CAP funding for bullfighting
  4. Coronavirus: Liège is 'the Lombardy of the second wave'
  5. UK to keep out EU nationals with criminal past
  6. Report: EU to restrict travel from Canada, Tunisia, Georgia
  7. Pope Francis supports same-sex civil unions
  8. EU Commission to increase use of open-source software

Rightwing MEPs bend to Saudi will after Khashoggi death

Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed two years ago on 2 October. Since then, mainly centre-right, conservative and far-right MEPs have voted down any moves to restrict, limit or ban the sales of weapons to the Saudi regime.

EU parliament vows not to cave in to budget pressure

The parliament's majorty dismisses the German EU presidency's proposal on the rule of law conditionality, which has emerged as the main political obstacle to agree on the next long-term EU budget.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersUN Secretary General to meet with Nordic Council on COVID-19
  3. UNESDAWell-designed Deposit Return Schemes can help reach Single-Use Plastics Directive targets
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  6. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity

Latest News

  1. Nato and EU silent on Turkey, despite Armenia's appeal
  2. EU tells UK to decide on Brexit as deal 'within reach'
  3. EU farming deal attacked by Green groups
  4. France vows tough retaliation for teacher's murder
  5. All eyes on EU court for decision on religious slaughter
  6. 'Big majority' of citizens want EU funds linked to rule of law
  7. EU declares war on Malta and Cyprus passport sales
  8. EU Commission's Libya stance undercut by internal report

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us