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Germany's EU Presidency rules out private sponsors in the name of 'independence' and 'integrity'

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Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday in Brussels, presenting the priorities for the six months of the German Presidency
Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday in Brussels, presenting the priorities for the six months of the German Presidency   -   Copyright  Kenzo Tribouillard/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
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Germany's EU Presidency is out of the starting blocks, and its first decree is to reject any private sponsorship for the six-month tenancy.

It may seem like a no-brainer, but this is a first. And it makes sense with the European Ombudsman deciding to rule on the embarrassing issue of sponsorship by large multinationals during previous EU Presidency semesters.

The Ombudsman noted that, as the Presidency is part of the Council, its activities are likely to be perceived by the wider European public as being linked to the Council and the EU as a whole. As such, the use of sponsorship by the Presidency entails reputational risks which the Council should address. The Ombudsman therefore recommended that, to mitigate those risks, the Council should provide guidance to the Member States on the issue of sponsorship of the Presidency.
Decision of the European Ombudsman in case 1069/2019/MIG on sponsorship of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union

The permanent representation of Germany to the European institutions explained to Euronews that this decision was taken on the grounds of "transparency, integrity and neutrality". The mission confirmed they don't have any plans to accept any sponsorship from public institutions.

The official page of the German Presidency explains that it has a sustainability focus and that "refraining from private-sector sponsorship of events guarantees that the Presidency will be conducted without appearing to be subject to outside influence."

For years, the practice of seeking private sponsors to support the six-month rotating Presidency of the European Union had gone mainly unnoticed by the public. However, it became systematic. Car brands, insurance companies, soft drink manufacturers, computer giants...

Until the organisation Food Watch lodged a complaint with the European Ombudsman last year. They warned that, although the rotating presidency is largely symbolic and has no executive powers, it seemed unethical to keep the doors open to the big corporations on which the EU has to legislate.

A hundred MEPs also wrote to the Finnish Presidency (second half of 2019) to end this "politically damaging" practice.

The European Council responded to the Ombudsman's verdict last month by promising to establish a guide to good practice in this area, although according to EU Observer research countries such as France, Spain and the Czech Republic were not keen on having to bear all the costs without sponsorship and refused to endorse the letter addressed by the EU Council to the Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly.

Now Germany is going beyond the recommendations and presenting the first Presidency without private sponsors.

Cars, Coke and Computers

Food Watch told Euronews that in the months leading up to the rotating Presidency, Germany had been considering the possibility of having sponsorships from small local companies to favour "regional interests", although Berlin has finally given this up. Food Watch had requested for the list of local companies to be published.

Food Watch considers the "guide of good practice" promised by the European Council as largely insufficient. "We think only giving out guidelines is too weak. Compulsory regulations are needed," said Dario Sarmadi.

"German government spokesman Steffen Seibert did not give clear answers about Germany's position on mandatory regulations. Sponsorships such as Coca Cola's for the Romanian presidency are 'problematic' because it is clear that the money comes with interest behind it," Sarmadi added.

The recently ended Croatian presidency rejected private sponsorship. However, it accepted the 'generous and free' contribution of car manufacturers such as Peugeot and Citröen and also a juice brand. In addition, the official oil company was among the 'public' sponsors, a choice that raised a few eyebrows at a time when the European Union is trying to promote a 'green revolution' with its Green Deal project.

On the official website they justified the need for sponsorships: "considering many expenses that have to be met during the presidency, lesser expenses are often partly covered by sponsors. This is therefore a matter of national competence for the member state holding the Presidency. ".

Last year, in the middle of the European Ombudsman's investigation, Romania was accumulating sponsorships from multinationals and Finland refused to give up the support provided by BMW car manufacturer.

In its long list of sponsors, Austria's 2018 presidency had everything from porcelain manufacturers to the computer giant Microsoft. Bulgaria's list in the previous six months was even longer. So much so that the page with the list of sponsors recalls the panels of sporting events highly dependent on private sponsorship such as Formula 1.