Saturday

22nd Jul 2017

Barroso faces Dalli at EU court in tobacco lobby case

  • Dalli (l) and Barroso (r) in happier times (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Five judges at the EU Court of Justice on Monday (7 July) cross-examined the president of the European Commission in the tobacco lobby scandal which saw health commissioner John Dalli leave in disgrace two years ago.

The tense exchange of statements took nearly five hours inside the blue-carpeted chamber at the Luxembourg-based tribunal.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  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.

It was the first time a commission president had ever faced judges’ questions.

It was also the first time Barroso’s entourage, which included Dalli’s former spokesman Frederick Vincent, and Dalli had laid eyes on each other since the events, prompting many furtive glances.

The dispute concerns what happened during a 90-minute Barroso-Dalli meeting on 16 October 2012.

It also concerns wider allegations by the EU anti-fraud office, Olaf, that Dalli solicited bribes from a mouth tobacco firm, Swedish Match, as part of a plan by the tobacco industry to weaken an EU tobacco control law.

Dalli gave the opening statement.

He said Barroso coerced him into resigning, refused him time to seek legal advice, and denied him the right to review the facts of the allegations against him.

“I asked him to give me the possibility to consult a lawyer, to get some sort of legal advice … I asked for 24 hours. He looked at his watch and he said ‘I’ll give you 30 minutes’,” Dalli recalled.

“It was not a meeting, it was an ambush”.

He said Barroso declined to give him details of the Olaf allegations. “They said [only] that I met some lobbyists,” he told the judges.

He also said the way the case was handled ruined his reputation and caused distress for his family.

Barroso would have none of it, however.

“Very serious accusations had been made against Mr Dalli, accusations of improper contacts with the tobacco lobby and knowledge of attempted bribery,” the commission chief noted.

The Olaf report has itself come under fire by Olaf’s supervisory board for being based on circumstantial evidence and for failing to follow investigative rules.

But Barroso said the political stakes were too great to keep the Maltese commissioner employed.

He noted the timing was sensitive because Dalli was about to launch the tobacco law. He said he feared a repeat of events in 1999, when the entire commission was forced to resign in a corruption scandal under the then president Jacques Santer.

He also said that Dalli in the 90-minute meeting did not refute the Olaf claims or give a convincing explanation as to why he had met the lobbyists in the first place.

“At that point it became definitely clear to me that politically it would be impossible for him to continue as a commissioner,” Barroso said.

He noted the decision was made quickly to avoid possible leaks, which would generate even greater reputational damage for the EU.

The commission chief added that Dalli resigned of his own free will in “an unambiguous manner”.

He noted that Dalli first agreed to sign a letter of resignation, but later refused.

Just after 5pm on 16 October 2012, Barroso’s office published a press release.

The first line of the press release says Dalli had announced his resignation as a member of the commission, with immediate effect.

It notes Dalli decided to resign in order to defend his reputation and that of the commission.

Barroso said he had read out the press release in full to Dalli, in the presence of two high-ranking civil servants at a second meeting, just prior to publication.

Two senior civil servants present at Monday’s hearing backed his version of events.

But Dalli said he had no recollection of the read-out of the press release.

He added that after the first 90-minute meeting, he went back to his office and called his family.

He said he also spoke briefly to Malta’s prime minister, who later informed the national parliament of what had happened.

Dalli said he then told his own cabinet of his imminent departure, where he was asked if he had indeed met with tobacco lobbyists.

His then head of cabinet, Joanna Darmanin, told the Luxembourg tribunal that when asked about the lobbyist meetings, Dalli remarked: “You know how I am. I meet with anyone who asks me”.

The hearing continues on Tuesday with the lawyers of the two sides only.

Dalli wants the Court to annul Barroso’s request for his resignation and to pay a symbolic €1 in damages for the “non financial” harm he has suffered, as well as compensation for his loss of earnings as a commissioner.

The verdict is expected in six to nine months' time.

Dalli lawyers say Barroso trampled his rights

Dalli's lawyers claimed Barroso bullied him out of his job instead of following proper procedure in the second and final day of an EU Court hearing in his case.

Investigation

Inside the Code of Conduct, the EU's most secretive group

The informal group of national officials that is in charge of checking EU countries' tax laws is now working on the first EU blacklist of tax havens, amid critiques over its lack of transparency and accountability.

Ombudsman asks for more details on Barroso case

Emily O'Reilly has asked the EU Commission to say what former commissioners should be allowed to do after they leave office and explain why it took no decision over its former president's controversial new job.

Investigation

Inside the Code of Conduct, the EU's most secretive group

The informal group of national officials that is in charge of checking EU countries' tax laws is now working on the first EU blacklist of tax havens, amid critiques over its lack of transparency and accountability.

Ombudsman asks for more details on Barroso case

Emily O'Reilly has asked the EU Commission to say what former commissioners should be allowed to do after they leave office and explain why it took no decision over its former president's controversial new job.

News in Brief

  1. Polish parliament adopts controversial justice reform
  2. GMO opt-out plan unlikely to go anywhere in 2017
  3. Slovak PM threatens to boycott inferior food
  4. France takes Google's 'right to be forgotten' to EU court
  5. Turkey accuses German companies of supporting terror
  6. Israel's Netanyahu caught calling EU 'crazy'
  7. UK does not collect enough data to expel EU nationals
  8. Polish president threatens to veto justice reform

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  2. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  3. ECPAFood waste in the field can double without crop protection. #WithOrWithout #pesticides
  4. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  5. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  6. Martens CentreWeeding out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  8. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Episode 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  9. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  10. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  12. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School

Latest News

  1. Dutch coalition talks lengthiest in 40 years
  2. Polish parliament steps up showdown with EU
  3. EU urges UK to clarify its Brexit positions
  4. Law expert: direct EU powers have become too complicated
  5. Winter is here for Spitzenkandidat, but he'll survive
  6. Mafia money pollutes the EU economy
  7. Central Europe should be wary of Brexit stopping
  8. Poland's 'July coup' and what it means for the judiciary

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEP Support for Corporate Tax Transparency Principle Unlikely to Pass Reality Check
  2. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Improves the External Investment Plan but Significant Challenges Ahead
  3. EU2017EEPM Ratas: EU Is Not Only an Idea for the 500mn People in the Bloc, It Is Their Daily Reality
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCloser Energy Co-Operation Keeps Nordic Region on Top in Green Energy
  5. ILGA-EuropeGermany Finally Says Ja - Bundestag Votes for Marriage Equality!
  6. EPSUJapanese and European Public Sector Unions Slam JEFTA
  7. World VisionEU, Young Leaders and Civil Society Join Forces to End Violence Against Girls
  8. UNICEFNarrowing the Gaps: The Power of Investing in the Health of the Poorest Children
  9. EU2017EEEstonia to Surprise Europe With Unique Cultural Programme
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Talks Should Insist on Ending Reprisals Vs. Critical Voices
  11. European Free AllianceEFA Is Looking for a New Intern
  12. Malta EU 2017Conservation of Atlantic Tunas: International Measures Become EU Law