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26th Oct 2021

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Big Oil sponsors Croatia's EU presidency

  • An INA service station in Croatia - one of the sponsors of the current six-month presidency (Photo: INA, d.d.)

The six-month Croatian presidency of the Council of the EU has signed a deal with the country's national oil company INA to supply its fuel.

The part state-owned firm is now designated as the EU council presidency's "official gasoline supplier" - and comes during the launch of the European Commission's European Green Deal, a seminal policy that seeks to cut carbon emissions and fossil fuel consumption across the European Union over the next three decades.

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"INA is proud to be official fuel supplier during Croatian's presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2020. The company will provide fuel for official vehicles," it said when asked for a comment.

The deal, described as an in-kind contribution, was confirmed to EUobserver by the secretariat of the Croatian Presidency (EU2020HR) whose spokesperson, in an email, also noted it had signed sponsorship deals with six other Croat companies.

"The EU2020HR has so far signed seven sponsorship agreements with exclusively Croatian companies. When we complete the list of sponsors full information will be posted on the EU2020HR website," said the secretariat on Wednesday (15 January).

Popular Croatian food and beverage companies Jana, Franck, and Juicy have also signed in-kind contribution agreements.

Another three, not yet named, are paying contributors. Their money will go towards covering some of the costs of the meetings that the presidency is responsible for organising, according to the secretariat.

Meanwhile, the presidency's gasoline supplier INA describes itself as a medium-sized European oil company with regional influence when it comes to oil and gas exploration, production, oil processing and oil distribution. It operates 11 offshore gas fields and has over 1,200 production wells.

INA also has business operations in Angola and Egypt and manages two refineries in the Croatian cities of Rijeka and Sisak.

In a company profile report from 2018, the president of its management board is cited as saying their "main goal is to ensure long-term sustainability of all our businesses and maintain our integrated business model."

It is a model that likely may be at odds with a growing global backlash against the fossil industry as climate change movements continue to pile on the pressure for national governments to act more swiftly on carbon emissions.

It also comes ahead the recent launch of the commission's European Green deal to achieve climate-neutrality by 2050, a policy described by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen as EU's 'man-on-moon moment'.

Reputational risks

Gong, a Zagreb-civil society organisation, has also revealed that over 60 percent of the Croatian presidency's lobby meetings have been with businesses, featuring firms representing big tech, car companies, and the fossil fuel industry.

The sponsorship deals follow similar set ups by the previous rotating presidencies.

Romania's presidency in the first half of last year was sponsored by carmakers Renault and Mercedes, and drinks multinational Coca-Cola. The outgoing Finnish presidency had sponsorship from BMW.

But Germany, which is set to take over the presidency this summer, says it has "waived" sponsorship deals - although it may make exceptions for "regional products" & "regional services".

The apparent ethical conflict with sponsors has cast a long shadow over the six-month rotating EU council presidencies, whose task is to steer EU policy and act as a deal-maker among the 28 member states.

EU Ombsudsman Emily O'Reilly in an emailed statement said the issue poses a problem when it comes to public perception given the reputational risks linked to corporate sponsorship.

"Given the presidency's role, there is a risk that sponsorship could be perceived as giving a sponsor some influence over EU policy and law making," she said, adding that the council needs to issue some guidance to national governments on the presidency sponsorships.

"This could involve the conditions under which sponsorship is appropriate and the branding arrangements linked to any funds received," she added.

Pro-transparency groups like Corporate Europe Observatory, a Brussels-based NGO, have also been raising the issue for years.

"Corporate sponsorship is now an established part of rotating presidencies," it said in a report out earlier last year.

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