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1st Jul 2022

French EU presidency to bring in 'dubious' carmakers sponsorship

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France is set to bring in corporate sponsors for its EU Council presidency in the first half of 2022, despite calls to end with this controversial practice.

French carmakers Renault and Stellantis, which owns Peugeot and Citroën, are expected to provide 220 electric and hybrid cars to transport delegations and offset its mobility carbon footprint for the incoming EU presidency.

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But civil society groups argued that the car industry has been mired by legal disputes over the emissions-cheating scandal brought to light by the 'Dieselgate' scandal - and that French manufacturers are among those facing legal action.

"While such companies are surely keen to maximise their influence and boost their reputations, they are surely a dubious 'partner' for any presidency," Brussels-based NGO Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) said in a report released on Monday (20 December).

The sponsorship of the rotating six-monthly presidency of the EU Council by multinationals is a standard practice, which almost all recent presidencies have used.

However, MEPs, the EU Ombudsman and NGOs have repeatedly raised concerns about the impact that corporate sponsorship deals have on public trust and the reputation of the EU council, since EU presidencies represent and set the work programme of the institution.

France, meanwhile, has been among the groups of EU member states which have opposed a ban on commercial sponsorships, and has instead supported a set of guidelines - widely criticised as "insufficient" by civil society.

The guidelines state, for example, that countries holding the EU presidency are "encouraged, at their discretion" to be transparent on who sponsors are, how they are selected and what their benefits are.

"It is remarkable that such sponsorship continues, and even more remarkable that, when given a chance to do the right thing and ban all sponsorship agreements, almost all governments have instead decided to stubbornly continue with it," CEO said.

The Slovenian presidency, for example, had alcoholic beverages and juices, paper manufacturers and cyber security companies among their partners. But previous presidencies have come under fire for being sponsored by fossil-fuel companies and firms accused of greenwashing.

The CEO report found that Paris had initially been considering taking sponsorship from French power giant EDF, although reports indicated in November that this was no longer the case.

Nevertheless, the automobile industry has been traditionally seen as a powerful player influencing decision-making in Brussels and EU capitals, with an estimated annual budget €15-20m for lobbying.

Investigation

France opposed guidelines on EU presidency sponsorships

Internal document shows diplomats questioned whether the secretariat of the Council of the EU was legally allowed to write guidelines on the financing of the six-month rotating EU presidency activities.

Portugal's EU presidency marks return of corporate sponsors

Last year's German EU presidency refused corporate sponsorships. But the new Portuguese presidency has decided they are needed and has signed three contracts. One of them is with one of Europe's largest paper companies, The Navigator Company.

EU to keep corporate sponsorship of presidencies

The chief administrators of the Council, representing member states, have issued draft guidelines on corporate sponsorships of EU presidencies. The guidelines do not ban sponsorships - despite the risks they pose to the EU's reputation as a whole.

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