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23rd Mar 2019

EU watchdog raises alarm on tobacco lobbying

  • Some 700,000 people die every year in the EU to tobacco-related illnesses (Photo: European Parliament)

The European Commission is refusing to curb lobbying by tobacco firms in its ranks by not fully applying UN transparency rules, says an EU watchdog.

The EU ombudsman Emily O'Reilly said on Monday (8 February) that the Brussels-executive ditched her recommendations to publish online all details - including the minutes - of meetings with tobacco lobbyists or their legal representatives.

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"This is a missed opportunity by the Juncker Commission to show global leadership in the vital area of tobacco lobbying," she said in a statement, referring to commission chief, Jean-Claude Juncker.

The UN's World Health Organisation bans public policy makers from fraternising in secret with tobacco firms under the so-called framework convention on tobacco control (FCTC).

The EU commission's directorate for health publishes all its meetings and minutes online.

Other directorates do not.

It means tobacco lobbyists can exert pressure or influence in other areas of the commission where the FCTC is not being applied.

"It cannot be enough to adopt a restrictive view of what is expected from the UN FCTC or to justify lack of proactivity on the grounds that it has met the minimum legal requirements," said O'Reilly.

Commission rebuffs claims

Her recommendations highlighted the commission's legal services, which had dealings with tobacco industry insiders in the lead up to an overhaul of the EU tobacco products directive.

Michel Petite, a corporate lawyer for big tobacco firms at Clifford Chance, held talks with the commission's legal services in September 2011 and September 2012.

Before landing a job with the London-based lawyers, Petite headed the commission's legal service in 2008. A year later, he was appointed to the commission's ethics committee on lobbying, a position he held until December 2013.

Transparency activists criticised his role on the ethics committee, as Philip Morris International is among the clients of Clifford Chance.

Petite also played a minor but crucial role in the events that saw John Dalli lose his job as the EU commissioner for health over tobacco-related bribery allegations.

The commission says it fully complies with the FCTC.

It says Petite is a legal expert and not an industry representative.

It says staff regulations, code of conduct rules, access to documents and other internal guidelines are good enough to ensure the integrity of policy and law making.

O'Reilly launched her inquiry in June 2014 after receiving a complaint from the Brussels-based pro-transparency NGO Corporate Europe Transparency.

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