Wednesday

25th Apr 2018

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 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.

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.

Secrecy of VW fraud report 'unacceptable', says MEP

Finnish MEP Heidi Hautala won a trailblazing court case two decades ago for the right of EU citizens to receive 'partial access' to documents. Now she says it is "outrageous" the European Investment Bank is refusing to release Volkswagen documents.

Investigation

MEP friendship groups offer 'backdoor' for pariah regimes

MEPs are using so-called 'friendship groups' to cater to foreign governments without oversight and little public scrutiny. Initially set up to promote cultural exchanges, some have become lobbying platforms to push state views from governments with poor human rights records.

News in Brief

  1. UN expects over $4bn in pledges for Syria
  2. Commission wants more public data made available for reuse
  3. Study: Brexit will hit all European farmers
  4. European media face rise in 'verbal violence' from politicians
  5. Greenland PM to keep power despite poll slump
  6. Commissioner optimistic on FYROM name solution
  7. Italian court keeps NGO migrant rescue boat docked
  8. German Jews warned not to wear skullcap in public

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Sustainable Energy Week 2018"Lead the Clean Energy Transition"- Register and Join Us in Brussels from 5 to 7 May
  2. EU Green Week 2018Green Cities for a Greener Future. Join the Debate in Brussels from 22 to 24 May
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  4. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  5. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  6. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  8. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  9. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  10. Martens CentreJoin Us at NET@WORK2018 Featuring Debates on Migration, Foreign Policy, Populism & Disinformation
  11. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  12. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip

Latest News

  1. Whistleblowers could be enforcers of rule of law in Europe
  2. EU shelves Macron idea for 'European Darpa'
  3. Don't play EU 'games' with military HQs, Italian admiral says
  4. EU had a plan for Jordan - now it's time to make it work
  5. Time for EU to take charge of global health research agenda
  6. EU in race to set global Artificial Intelligence ethics standards
  7. Juncker delays air quality action due to busy agenda
  8. Spain makes bid for EU naval HQ

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight
  3. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  5. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  8. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  9. European Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  10. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  11. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  12. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan