Monday

18th Mar 2019

EU officials kept tobacco meetings under wraps

  • The European Commission is violating UN rules on tobacco and lobbying, says the EU ombudsman (Photo: EUobserver)

Ties between the European Commission and the tobacco industry have been hidden from public scrutiny in contravention to UN rules.

The findings, released on Monday (5 October) by European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly, point to long-held suspicions of corporate lawyers lobbying senior staff under the previous Commission steered by Jose Manuel Barroso.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • O’Reilly says the current Commission must publish all its minutes and meetings with tobacco representatives without having to be asked (Photo: European Union)

She says that the Commission’s argument that it is transparent because it publishes materials upon access requests or on demand from MEPs is not good enough.

“This effectively means that if no questions are asked, meetings with tobacco lobbyists remain undisclosed”, said her office in a statement.

She found that meetings held between the Commission and lawyers representing the tobacco industry "were not considered as meetings for the purpose of lobbying."

O’Reilly says the current Commission must publish all its minutes and meetings with tobacco representatives without having to be asked. She wants a response before the end of the year on how they intend to do it.

Failure to do so would be a violation of the WHO's Tobacco Control Convention, which bans commercial and vested interests on public health policies on tobacco control.

The issue is sensitive because EU-wide laws on tobacco were revised under the Barroso mandate.

Barroso sacked his commissioner for health, John Dalli, in 2012 over alleged ties in a bungled bribery that involved tobacco lobbyists.

But the move did not dispel suspicions of insider influence.

Former head of the commission’s legal services, Michel Petite, became a corporate lawyer whose clients include US tobacco firm Philip Morris.

The same individual later headed the European Commission ethical committee that monitors departing commissioners looking for new jobs. He also played a minor but key role in Dalli’s dismissal.

Unable to shake off broader suspicions of insider influence, Barroso’s office went on the defence in 2014 and told this website that it fully abides by the WHO convention rules on meetings between the tobacco industry and tobacco regulators.

It said it had made public the minutes of the meetings that took place in 2011 and 2012 between DG SANCO, the main service responsible for preparing the tobacco products directive, and the tobacco industry.

“Information has been made available in accordance with the rules on public access to documents”, said Barroso’s spokersperson at the time in an email.

She stated that Barroso's office had also provided information to the European Parliament on contacts with the tobacco industry in response to questions on Dalli.

“All meetings that took place have been disclosed in the Commission's replies to the European Parliament. It is therefore wrong to speak about undisclosed meetings”, the spokesperson added.

But such statements have riled pro-transparency NGOs who first issued the complaint to O'Reilly.

Brussels-based Corporate Europe Observatory, along with other NGOs in January 2013, wrote a letter to Barroso, asking him to stick to article 5(3) of the WHO rules and publish the meetings and minutes between tobacco groups in all of its directorate-generals.

The NGOs had uncovered at least 14 undisclosed meetings involving top Commission officials from the secretariat-general and members of Commission president Barroso's cabinet.

Last year, EUobserver published an investigation shedding new light on the Dalli lobbying scandal

EU on path towards whistleblower protection

EU lawmakers and member states have struck a political deal on the first-ever EU-wide directive on whistleblower protection - following years of big tax-evasion revelations and the laundering of dirty money in European banks.

Germany's CDU lukewarm on Macron's EU vision

Germany's anointed new leader has echoed France in calling for EU reform to combat populism - but with a stronger role for national governments and with little prospect of sharing German wealth.

News in Brief

  1. Blow for May as third vote on Brexit deal ruled out
  2. Three killed in possible 'terror' gun attack in Utrecht
  3. Third Brexit vote this week only if DUP will support it
  4. Germany's two largest banks confirm merger talks
  5. Serbian pro-democracy protests reach 15th week
  6. 'Yellow Vest' riots leave Paris shops vandalised
  7. European woman older when having first baby
  8. Majority of Germans want Merkel to stay on

Magazine

Explained: What is the European Parliament?

While domestic political parties often use the European Parliament as a dumping ground for unwanted politicians - and a majority of citizens don't bother to vote - the parliament, over the years, has become a dominant force in the EU.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  3. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  6. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  11. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  12. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  2. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  5. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us