EU officials have been concealing meetings with tobacco industry lobbyists, a watchdog has found.
European Ombudsman Emma O’Reilly told the European Commission its approach to publishing details of such encounters was ‘inadequate, unreliable and unsatisfactory’.
O’Reilly said it is important the Commission, which initiates EU legislation, is open about meetings with lobbyists.
Her slap on the wrists for the EC comes after health commissioner John Dalli resigned in 2012 as fraud investigators probed claims a businessman with links to him had sought 60-million euros from tobacco firm Swedish Match, in return for Dalli watering down new legislation.
Dalli denies the allegations. He lost a recent court case in which he claimed unfair dismissal from the EC.
O’Reilly’s ruling today (October 5) was in a case initiated last year by NGO Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), which complained top EC officials had not disclosed 14 meetings with tobacco representatives.
O’Reilly said in her full judgment the EC did not consider meetings between its legal service and lawyers as constituting contact with tobacco industry.
“It’s obvious that this interpretation is flawed and has the effect, in the present context, of concealing the existence of meetings between Commission staff and representatives of the tobacco industry,” she said.
CEO, in communication with Euronews, claimed the meetings were between a lawyer acting for Philip Morris International (PMI) and the EC. The lawyer, said the NGO, used to be a top official in the EC, potentially a fresh case in Brussels so-called ‘revolving door’ syndrome.
CEO also alleged the discussions were about the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive, which aims to harmonise the regulation of tobacco across the continent.
Olivier Hoedeman, CEO’s research and campaigns co-ordinator, said: “This ruling is a significant victory for the fight against the sinister scheming of this lethal industry.
“The commission’s complacency and secrecy over its contacts with the tobacco industry are deeply regrettable – but part of a pattern.”
The EC told Euronews its practices offer a high degree of transparency and that it would consider calls for a mandatory lobbying register to be introduced.
The EC has had a register to record lobbyists’ meetings with EU officials since 2011, but critics have seized on the fact it’s voluntary and raised questions over the quality of the information provided.
PMI, who have signed up to the register, said: “At Philip Morris International (PMI), we believe constructive engagement with a wide variety of stakeholders is vital to our business. We consider it our duty, and our responsibility, to make our views clear to those who have the potential to affect the laws, regulations, and policies that can influence our global business.
“We pursue these interests with integrity, and in full compliance with the laws and regulations governing government advocacy activities and disclosure.”
Brussels is estimated to be second only to Washington when it comes to lobbyists, with up to 30,000 thought to be practising in the Belgian capital.