Wednesday

20th Jan 2021

ECJ ruling set to end 10-year 'mouth tobacco' lobbying saga

  • Maltese commissioner, John Dalli, was fired by his boss, Jose Manual Barroso, which led to an acrimonious court case in Luxembourg. (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Tobacco firm Swedish Match appears increasingly unlikely to be permitted to sell its 'snus' mouth tobacco product across the EU any time soon.

Almost ten years after it had sought out Malta's then European Commissioner for health to lift the ban, it suffered another blow on 12 April in its ongoing ambition to see snus on store shelves in Italy, Germany and elsewhere.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • The sale of snus remains banned throughout the EU, except in Sweden. (Photo: Ole C Eid)

Under current EU rules, snus can only be sold in Sweden.

The Swedish firm walked away once again disappointed when a Danish advocate general at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg said its product remains a health hazard.

While the opinion by the Danish advocate general is not binding, it is often seen as a harbinger for the final verdict issued by the court judges later on.

Swedish Match general counsel Marie-Louise Heiman said in a statement, cited by Reuters, that they now "hope that the court will come to a different conclusion in its final ruling." It is unclear when the final ruling will take place.

The company had argued in British courts that a 2014 EU directive on tobacco was disproportionate, given the latest scientific research on snus.

The British High Court then referred the case to Luxembourg for the European judges to decide if the snus prohibition in the EU directive is indeed still valid.

Swedish Match's case against the directive was the latest episode in the company's long fight against the snus ban, a saga which led to one of the EU institutions' most prominent scandals.

The firm had alerted a former EU commission official turned lawyer of an attempted bribe, which then triggered an EU-anti fraud Olaf probe into Malta's European commissioner for health.

Backstory

The saga, steeped in political intrigue and 'Big Tobacco' lobbying, has its roots at the five-star Kempinski Hotel on the Maltese island of Gozo, and a small diner that serves all day €10 English breakfast in St Julian's Bay, and a reach that spread all the way to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

The affair kicked off almost ten years ago when John Dalli, the European commissioner for health, was alleged to have solicited bribes from Swedish Match and the European smokeless tobacco council (Estoc), an umbrella organisation, to lift the ban on snus.

Dalli had been preparing the new, stronger 2014 EU anti-tobacco reforms - as lobbyists descended en masse to get the ban removed and water down the proposals.

The Maltese commissioner maintained his innocence of any wrongdoing, and pointed to a larger tobacco plot to oust him given his proposed laws cracking down on smoking.

However, Dalli was fired from the European Commission by his boss, Jose Manual Barroso, which led to an acrimonious court case in Luxembourg.

At the time, Dalli's friend and St Julian's Bay restaurant owner Silvio Zammit was already selling snus out of his small diner to all the Swedes working in Malta. The island nation had become a magnet for the Swedish online gambling industry given its generous tax system, warm climate, and deep blue Mediterranean waters.

Zammit had his own ambitions. A former deputy mayor and a part-time circus impresario, he had also run a small gambling agency but now saw an opportunity to cash in big time. It was at a corner table in his restaurant that Zammit offered to set up a meeting between Swedish Match and John Dalli for a €60m fee.

When EUobserver met Zammit at this restaurant years later in 2014, the 50-year old was facing a ten year prison sentence for his part in the affair.

Zammit had his first foray into the snus business after taking his friend on a budget holiday trip to Stockholm, where the two were treated to a lunch and tour of the city by Estoc reps.

The EU's anti-fraud office, Olaf, later caught wind of the alleged bribe attempt and launched a probe that rapidly led to Dalli being booted out of the Commission.

Fearing arrest, Dalli disappeared but later turned up in Malta after prime minister Joseph Muscat, his political ally, sacked a police commissioner who had wanted him arraigned. Muscat then appointed Dalli as a health consultant.

But the story did not end there as Belgian prosecutors began to probe Olaf, given that its secretary-general, Giovanni Kessler, was said to have wire-tapped a Zammit phone call.

That revelation caused an uproar among MEPs at the European parliament.

Kessler eventually lost his immunity because of the wire-tapping charges, exposing him to arrest and raids by the Belgian police.

He also threatened to sue the European commission for having stripped him of immunity and later left Brussels to pursue a new career in Rome.

Investigation

Part I: From Peppi’s to Barroso’s

Part I of VIII: EUobserver takes a closer look at the Barroso commission's biggest scandal - tobacco lobbying and John Dalli - in events some say will haunt the EU "for the next 10 years".

Investigation

EU smoke & mirrors

EUobserver reporter Nikolaj Nielsen sheds new light on the Dalli lobbying scandal, which, by Barroso's own admission, threatened to bring down the EU executive, but which is not over yet.

EU rolls out vaccine, as UK-variant spreads

Most EU member states began rolling out the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19 on Sunday, as a more contagious variant from the UK begins to spread on the continent.

News in Brief

  1. Brexit prompted finance exodus from UK to France
  2. Italian PM Conte wins confidence vote in Senate
  3. Borrell washes hands of EU's Venezuela policy
  4. Russia backs Greece in eastern Mediterranean dispute
  5. 'Ski-holiday' Switzerland reaches new infection high
  6. Germany extends lockdown, others expected to follow
  7. Barnier to be Brexit special adviser to von der Leyen
  8. EU commisioner to visit Bosnia's Lipa migrant camp

EU rolls out vaccine, as UK-variant spreads

Most EU member states began rolling out the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19 on Sunday, as a more contagious variant from the UK begins to spread on the continent.

Pandemic exposed gulf in EU digital-schooling

EU states who invested in digital education were better able to protect students from the pandemic, a new report has said. Meanwhile, poor and rural pupils were worse off.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  2. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  6. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice

Latest News

  1. MEPs call to halt Russia pipeline over Navalny arrest
  2. EU targets vaccinating 70% of adults by summer
  3. Portugal pushes to start delayed 'future EU' conference
  4. EU Parliament pressing for inquiry into Frontex
  5. Untapped potential of the single market could boost European recovery
  6. Biden's 'Age of Aquarius'? Mars and Venus will clash over China
  7. The new dimension of 'ever-closer union'
  8. What do new CDU chief's pro-Russia views mean for Europe?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us