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25th Aug 2019

Finland rejects call to end sponsorship of EU presidency

  • Coca-Cola advertising in Bucharest, Romania. The giant drinks company sponsored the Romanian EU presidency during the first six months of 2019 (Photo: kristofarndt)

The new rotating president of the EU Council, Finland, is not planning to discuss with other member states the issue of EU member states accepting corporate sponsorships to cover part of the costs of the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU.

"We do not foresee any discussions of corporate sponsorship of EU presidencies with other member states," a spokeswoman told EUobserver.

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  • BMW has made a hundred cars available to the Finnish presidency of the EU during the second half of 2019 (Photo: EU2019FI)

"Finland decided to make an agreement with only one sponsor (BMW) during its presidency. However, each member state has the competence to decide on these matters for itself," she added.

Finland took over as president of the council, the EU institution where national governments meet, from Romania on 1 July.

Finnish prime minister Antti Rinne will present the country's plans for the EU presidency at a debate in the European Parliament on Wednesday (17 July).

In April, a group of 97 members of the European Parliament wrote a letter to Rinne's predecessor, then Finnish prime minister Juhu Sipila, asking for more transparency in the council.

They specifically asked Finland to refuse any corporate sponsorship and to "make a proposal to other member states that all future presidencies agree to such a rule".

"The sponsorship of the current and previous presidencies by automotive, software, and beverage companies, many of whom have an active interest in influencing EU decision-making, is politically damaging," they said.

Romania held the EU presidency in the first six months of 2019, and it was sponsored by carmakers Renault and Mercedes, and drinks multinational Coca-Cola.

The non-governmental organisation (NGO) Foodwatch criticised Romania for having accepted a sponsorship by Coca-Cola "in a time of major obesity problems and additional disease burdens such as type 2 diabetes".

"It is important to avoid policy being influenced by commercial interests. But even the appearance of a conflict of interest alone should be avoided, as this adversely affects confidence in politics, especially in a time of declining trust in politics and politicians," said the NGO.

Dutch far-left MEP Dennis de Jong sent the council parliamentary questions, asking how much Coca-Cola paid, what the multinational received in return, and how the council can prove that "the agenda and the policies discussed during Romania's presidency of the Council of the EU remained free of influence by Coca-Cola despite the sponsorship".

The council said it could not answer those questions.

"The organisation of the presidency, including a decision to seek sponsorship for elements of the presidency, is a matter for the member state authorities concerned. It is not for the council to reply to questions that are the responsibility of its presidency," it said.

Corporate sponsorship of the presidency of the council is not new, but according to another NGO it has in recent years become the rule rather than the exception.

"Corporate sponsorship is now an established part of rotating presidencies," said Corporate Europe Observatory in a report earlier this year.

"The Maltese presidency of 2017 proactively invited sponsorship proposals from Maltese companies, promising 'priceless exposure, prestige and enhanced brand recognition' in return; BMW, AirMalta, and Microsoft are among those who took up the offer," the report added.

At least eight states holding the presidency consecutively took sponsorship deals: the Netherlands, Slovakia, Malta, Estonia, Bulgaria, Austria, Romania, and now Finland.

A sponsorship agreement does not always involve money, but could also be provided in kind. BMW has made a hundred cars available to the Finnish presidency, for example.

Croatian business opportunity

Croatia, which will take the baton from Finland on 1 January 2020, is already paving the way to continue this trend.

Its EU presidency action plan, adopted last April, noted that previous presidencies also used sponsors, and that Croatia planned to select sponsors as well.

That same month, a Croatian communications agency identified the presidency of the EU council as a business opportunity.

"Croatian businesses have a huge opportunity to promote their own products through sponsorships of meetings and events," one of the agency's PR consultants wrote in a blog post titled How to benefit from the Croatian Presidency of the EU Council?

"The presiding member state, Croatia in 2020, is free to determine which opportunities it offers to its own private businesses; the European institutions do not have a say," the post went on.

"Now is the chance for private companies to get involved, advocate for access, and seize the opportunity to gain greater market positioning on the EU level," it concluded.

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