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Live-blog of Dalligate hearing in European Court of Justice

A media battle in one of the latest instalments of the Dalligate saga turns out to be one of José Barroso's small victories in the never-ending affair.

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella
7 July 2014, 6:51am
Last updated on 7 July 2014, 8:37pm
Not friends: John Dalli (left) and EC president José Manuel Barroso
Not friends: John Dalli (left) and EC president José Manuel Barroso
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (L) will appear at the European Court of Justice today.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (L) will appear at the European Court of Justice today.
The outgoing European Commission president José Manuel Barroso was cool and combative in his recollection of the fateful 16 October 2012 events when he told Maltese commissioner John Dalli that he had to resign over a bribery allegation.

Arriving in the General Court of the EU’s court in Luxembourg to testify on a claim of unfair dismissal by John Dalli, Barroso and his aides were compact and clear on the legal point they were driving at. Dalli, in not forcing his hand to sack him from the Commission as was entitled to by the Treaty of the European Union, had accepted to resign.

This point was reiterated several times by Barroso and his chief aides: claiming that Dalli had understood the severity of the accusations by OLAF, the EU’s anti-fraud agency, which suggested he had contacts with a tobacco lobbyist and that he took no action on the possibility of a bribe to influence tobacco rules he was reviewing at the time.

They also claimed that Dalli verbally told them he would be resigning, when asked by Barroso in their presence, only to demand that he wanted more time before a press announcement was made. Chief of cabinet Johannes Laitenberg and head of legal services Luis Romero Requena told the court that Dalli was trying to buy time.

These and other statements, such as painting Dalli’s meeting with ‘bar-restaurant owner’ Silvio Zammit in “undeclared meetings with tobacco representatives miles away in Malta from the Commission” were delivered by Barroso with much gusto, both in court and outside to the press. He described the meetings as “bizarre” and he played them out once again at the end of the court sitting, with much gusto.

Barroso won a crucial media battle in the Dalligate saga, by saying that Dalli was resorting to conspiracy theories, when his decision as Commission president, to prevent an embarrassing leak that would have delivered it the fate of the doomed Santer Commission, was a political one: Dalli had to leave.

Dalli called it a “death sentence” in court, while Barroso refuted suggestions that he should have considered the legality of the OLAF report first, that is, have the OLAF supervisory committee vet the investigative reportbefore taking a decision.

This was after all part of the problem in the entire Dalligate saga: the secrecy of the OLAF report gave rise to much speculation about Dalli’s guilt, while the lack of legal scrutiny of OLAF’s investigation was only made public in a leak of the supervisory committee report later on in 2013.

And only today Monday, the Supervisory Committee finally issue the official version of its legal scrutiny. Even this was bizarre, but it carries little weight in this court case.

 

The matter at stake

Dalli’s claim of unfair dismissal is centred around the events of the day: that earlier on 11 October, Barroso set up a meeting with Dalli setting no agenda for the meeting; that the two spent 90 minutes in debate over the covering letter from OLAF’s investigative report, which Barroso had been aware of; that two press statements had been prepared for his resignation: one in which he would have resigned voluntarily, the other announcing he had been sacked.

Dalli’s defence pushed the line that there was no serenity for the former commissioner on how she should act when, according to Dalli, Barroso demanded that he leave, with just 30 minutes’ notice.

Barroso was claiming that he was ready to believe Dalli if he could explain to him what OLAF were talking about, and that he entered the meeting with an open mind.

So when asked why a press statement ‘exonerating’ Dalli of OLAF’s accusations was not prepared, Barroso replied: “In that case there would have been no press statement, and I would have thought again how best to manage that situation. I was preparing the statements only in the case of the resignation. I insist on this point because the arguments of Mr Dalli are absurd: the best evidence that he resigned of his own free will was that I did not ask him to resign. If I did not want him to continue in the Commission, the best way I had was to terminate his role.”

Laitenberg stood by his master in saying that Barroso was ready to accept Dalli’s explanations, but that they could not possibly predict this outcome in their draft statements for the day.

It was a sort of game of ‘known unknowns’: Laitenberg said it was normal to predict these kind of situations, what kind of options would result – but that they could not predict what kind of explanation Dalli would give to the damning OLAF conclusions.

“Barroso's decision had to be political. The precedent had been set by the resignation of the Santer Commission, and the Treaty had already made possible a request for the President of the Commission to demand such a resignation. And in the context of previous occasions of improper behaviour, a quick and clear handling of such situations was essential to prevent irrevocable damage. Time lost cannot be retrieved, there is no period of grace in these situations, otherwise everything would then be determine by rumour and speculation.”

Laitenberg was asked by rapporteur Judge Forwood whether the fact that Dalli had not seen the OLAF report – which he could not have access to until it was passed on to the Attorney General – made it unrealistic for Dalli to provide a convincing answer to Barroso.

Dalli’s defence made it clear that Barroso was well aware of the OLAF conclusions, having been informed by EC secretary-general Catherine Day that the outcome was not positive for Dalli.

Barroso himself said he had met Dalli over the OLAF investigations back in July, having told him to ensure he cooperates fully due to the seriousness of the matter.

 

19:21: Live blog for today's sitting ends today • Follow us tomorrow for the continuation of the hearing.
19:16: He reiterated various points he raised during his testimony, ultimately driving the point that Dalli had resigned voluntarily because he had not forced his hand in pushing him out, and that all his aides had confirmed this version of events.
19:16: Barroso has just released comments to the press outside the courtroom, saying that he was especially pleased with the outcome of the sitting.
18:57: Live-blog temporarily suspended - Barroso might be releasing some comments soon
18:57: Dalli's lawyers now asking questions. Vincent says he did not discuss press release that was issued with Joanna Darmanin, and that the only instruction he got from Commission's spokesperson services was not to answer questions to the media.
18:54: Commission lawyers asking questions.
18:54: Judge Forwood says that the draft statement had been issued at 4:26pm but embargoed for 5pm. Vincent says the press release was not under embargo and issued a bit later than 5pm.
18:53: Vincent says he was not aware of the OLAF investigation before the day's events; after Dalli's announcement, he became aware of the press statement after it was issued formally at 5pm.
18:51: Judge Forwood now asking questions.
18:51: Vincent: "At around 6pm, Dalli summoned me to his secretary's office. He was there with papers in hand. He asked me whether we could issue a statement on his behalf, but I replied that it was impossible since his resignation was official as at 5pm and that he could not use Commission services to issue as a statement. At that point Darmanin entered the room, saying that issuing that press statement would not be possible."
18:49: Dalli convened a meeting for his Commission team, explaining briefly that Barroso had shown him the conclusions of an OLAF investigation, and that he would leave the Commission, go to Malta and defend himself. Only three colleagues asked some questions. During that meeting, Dalli explained that his departure would be announced by a press statement; for me it would mean that journalists would call me once the statement is issued.
18:47: Vincent starts with his recollection of the events of 16 October.
18:46: Next, and final witness is Frederik Vincent, spokesperson for the Health and Consumers Affairs Commission.
18:44: Papasavvas asks, between 16:20hrs and 16:50hrs, how she arrived at preparing a statement for Dalli, reiterating the Commission line. Darmanin replies that hers was a logical conclusion to what the Commission was to announce.
18:43: Judge Papasavvas questions Darmanin.
18:41: Darmanin is asked whether she was instructed not to render assistance to Dalli. "Absolutely not. This was only a logical conclusion that I drew having read the press statement issued at 17:15hrs. There was no instruction. The only meeting I had had were with Day and Laitenberg on logistical arrangements."
18:41: "At 1815hrs, Dalli wanted to use the services of the Commission as a commissioner, when an hour earlier you had a statement being issued that he was no longer a commissioner. This is what I had been explaining to Dalli."
18:37: Darmanin says that in a 10-15 minute with EC secretary-general Catherine Day and Johannes Laitenberg, she was informed that work on sensitive files like the Tobacco Products Directive would be postponed, and that she was briefed on next steps following Dalli's resignation. This meeting took place on the day of Dalli's resignation.
18:33: Darmanin says she first saw the resignation letter after the resignation, in the press. She says that she did not ask Dalli to sign the resignation letter.
18:33: Darmanin says that when she was summonsed, she started listing the chronology of events of the day, and that she checked on her computer certain times of when documents/statements were made on the day.
18:31: First question to Darmanin is how she had prepared her statement for the day, saying that witnesses should have arrived 'independently' to the proceedings of the court.
18:29: Questions from Dalli's lawyers.
18:29: Darmanin is asked about who was the journalist in Dalli's office on the day he resigned. "If I take the time-lag between 1615hrs, walked out of my office to write a statement, and then returned to Dalli's office, there were Frank Zammit (personal assistant to Mr Dalli) and Harry Vassallo (a member of the Dalli's Cabinet). I don't know who the journalist was."
18:27: Questions now from the Commission's lawyers.
18:27: Darmanin says she cannot recall Dalli ever saying that he had resigned. "All I can say is that by 1700hrs he would no longer be commissioner [on 16th October."
18:25: Darmanin refutes suggestions made by Dalli that she was instructed not to assist him. "I did not receive any such instructions. Dalli had access to staff in the days after; the day after on 17 October, at 10am, Commissioner Sefcovic called us to a meeting, telling us that this was an unfortunate event and asked us to assist Dalli during his transition.
18:21: Darmanin says that on 11 October, when a meeting was fixed with Barroso, Dalli enquired whether she knew what the meeting was about. She said she did not know and offered to inquire on his behalf. Dalli said no, and instead she drew up a political dossier on pending affairs to discuss.
18:19: Darmanin denies knowing that Dalli was a person concerned in the OLAF investigation before the 16 October 2012.
18:19: Questions from Judge Forwood to Joanna Darmanin.
18:19: "As he left the office I asked him whether there was anything I could do to assist him, but he did not reply."
18:18: "I pleaded with Dalli not to speak to a journalist who was with him in his office, since he had not yet read the contents of the OLAF report. I told him that Barroso had given him the benefit of the doubt."
18:17: "At around 1800hours, I heard agitated voices outside Dalli's office. I saw Dalli arguing with his spokesperson Frederik Vincent about issuing a statement. I told Dalli that it was not possible to issue a statement because he was no longer commissioner as at 1700hrs, because now Barroso was responsible for the institution."
18:16: Darmanin says she asked Dalli whether he had really met the tobacco representatives. "He said, I meet with whom I like."
18:16: "It was clear that Dalli would not be a commissioner as of 1700hrs. Staff members asked him what he would do; someone asked him whether it was true that he had had contacts with tobacco representatives. You know how I [Dalli] am, I meet many people."
18:14: "At around 3:15pm, Dalli came to the office to ask for a meeting of all the Cabinet staff in the Cabinet room. He said, 'We have a big problem. I need to speak to my wife. I have to see about my allowances, my pension'."
18:12: Darmanin now reads her recollection of the events of what happened on 16 October, 2012.
18:10: Joanna Darmanin, an aide to Commisioner Tonio Borg, and former aide to Dalli and Joe Borg, now testifying.
17:59: No further questions for Luis Romero Requena.
17:59: Romero says Dalli did not oppose the content of the press release and that he only insisted on postponing the issuing of the press announcement. Romero also denies having influenced the OLAF investigation. "I have never tried to influence an investigation."
17:58: Commission lawyers now asking questions.
17:58: Romero says he was not present for the phone-call that Barroso had with Gonzi.
17:53: Romero says he became aware of the contents of the OLAF report on the 15 October, when the report was delivered to the EC secretary-general Catherine Day.
17:52: Romero: "According to my experience, we had had bad experiences in our relations with OLAF, and that from time to time the Commission had been a victim in being slow to communicate with OLAF, and easily fall prey to a leak."
17:51: Dalli's lawyer asks Romero why Barroso did not give Dalli 24 hours to seek legal advice?
17:49: Romero: "The note was not there because the document was made after on 18 October," but the DG legal services says this note is an official Commission document.
17:48: Dalli's lawyer says that Romero's notes on the file he has for the 16 October, does not contain the confirmation that Dalli was said to have given to Barroso that he was resigning rather than staying on as a member of the Commission.
17:45: Romero says the resignation was clear, and that it did not require Dalli signing the letter.
17:44: Romero says the resignation letter was never drafted until after the meeting, which he took personally to Dalli. He says that Dalli did not sign the resignation letter.
17:43: Romero says he never considered the letter of resignation as a confirmation of the resignation, but that it was only a way of explaining to the public his defence from the allegations. "For me the letter was a way of explaining the reasons for his resignation."
17:43: Romero says he never considered the letter of resignation as a confirmation of the resignation, but that it was only a way of explaining to the public his defence from the allegations. "For me the letter was a way of explaining the reasons for his resignation."
17:40: Romero is asked whether he gave legal advice to John Dalli on the outcome of the meeting. "I was summoned to take notes and assure the follow-up of the meeting, but not to give any advice to either the President or Dalli."
17:39: Dalli's lawyers now asking questions.
17:35: Romero: "Dalli was insisting on postponing the announcement. He was accepting the resignation. Barroso asked Dalli if he accepted the resignation, and Dalli confirmed his resignation."
17:35: Romero is now answering questions from Judge Forwood. He says that days before he had prepared a legal note on the application of the Treaty on demanding a resignation of a commissioner.
17:33: Romero now refers to media reports in which Dalli said that the TPD was amended on request of the DG legal services, and says that his role was to keep the TPD within the framework of Commission laws.
17:32: "At the end of the meeting, Dalli requested the drafting of a letter to include his denials of the allegations. I took the letter personally to Dalli's office, where he was with persons I did not know."
17:31: All three - Barroso, Laitenberg and Romero - are unanimous on their claim that Dalli did not force the Commission's hand to make him resign 'against his will', and that Dalli had confirmed he was resigning; that his only request was for more time.
17:30: Romero says that Dalli was insisting in asking for more time to postpone the announcement of the resignation. "Dalli confirmed his resignation but asked for the press statement be delayed."
17:28: Like Laitenberg, Romero is reading word for word from a detailed statement.
17:28: Romero says he was aware of the 16 October meeting, due to the first meeting held with Dalli on 25 July; and that he was to make himself available. At 2pm he was summoned to the office, and that Barroso declared that Dalli's position had been untenable and that he had accepted to resign.
17:27: Head of legal services Luis Romero Requena now testifying.
17:19: Laitenberg: "Because you can only prepare what you cant anticipate. And we could not anticipate what Dalli's explanation was going to be. All would depend on Dalli's reaction. In the second or third alternative, the resgnation of a commissioner required informing the member state and the other instiutions, requiring drafting a press statement on the spot."
17:18: Dalli's lawyer asks Laitenberg that, if there were three routes for Barroso to take, why were only two press statements prepared?
17:16: Laitenberg says any publication of the press statement could have only taken place under authorisation of Barroso.
17:15: Dalli's lawyers now asking the questions.
17:14: Laitenberg says Barroso added the sentence in the press statement about Dalli categorically rejecting the allegations in the OLAF report.
17:13: Judge Forwoord says a telephone call with Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi was set at 3pm, and then took place later after the meeting was over.
17:12: Laitenberg says there was always the risk of an imminent leak and immediate reaction. "This was a simple precaution, best practice in any criticial situation... it was not for this reason that the course of action was premeditated. Many preparations are happily binned if the circumstances necessitate it."
17:10: Laitenberg says the preparations of the press statements, in full confidentiality, were himself, secretary-general Catherine Day and DG-legal services Luis Romero Requena. They were drafted by Day, then reviewed by Romero and Laitenberg. The draft was given to the spokespersons' service prior to the meeting actually taking place.
17:09: Laitenberg: "It was difficult to anticipate what sort of reassurance Dalli should have given [in the meeting preceding the 16 October meeting]."
17:08: Judge Forwood: "Given that Dalli had not seen the report, how realistic was it for Dalli to provide a convincing answer to the politically difficult decision to ask him to resign?"
17:06: "Barroso went into the meeting of 16 October with an open mind... he only wanted to use a forced resignation as a measure of last resort."
17:06: "Barroso considered three alternatives: first, that Dalli provides a clear explanation of the report's accusations, that would allow Barroso to give a public explanation of the matter at hand. That was the reason he met Dalli on 25 July to urge him to provide full explanations in the investigation. Secondly, to allow Dalli to take the high moral ground and defend his reputation. And third, in case of no explanation or no voluntary resignation, a request by Barroso to make him resign."
17:03: Laitenberger: "OLAF is operationally independent... Barroso's decision had to be political. The precedent had been set by the resignation of the Santer Commission, and the Treaty had already made possible a request for the President of the Commission to demand such a resignation. And in the context of previous occasions of improper behaviour, a quick and clear handling of such situations was essential to prevent irrevocable damage. Time lost cannot be retrieved, there is no period of grace in these situations, otherwise everything would then be determine by rumour and speculation."
16:59: On the 16 October 2012, President Barroso met Dalli in his office to inform him of the outcome of the OLAF investigation. The DG legal services Luis Romero Requena and myself were asked into the meeting. The meeting started at 1:45pm, and at around 3pm we were called in.
President Barroso spoke first, saying he had the covering letter to the OLAF investigation, and that this had been painful from a human point of view, and that Dalli would have to resign.
Dalli said he should have had the possibility to defend himself by his lawyers and that the process was wrong. Barroso replied that Dalli had all the possibilities to seek redress. Dalli said that the damage would have been done.
16:57: “To sum up, from the conversation, it was clear to me that Dalli had resigned because his position had become politically untenable… Mr Dalli has decided to resign of his own motion rather than being requested to resign. The discussion with me and Mr Romero was about a text to include his representation of the matter, but that it was a confirmatory one of his resignation.”
16:55: On the 16 October 2012, President Barroso met Dalli in his office to inform him of the outcome of the OLAF investigation. The DG legal services Luis Romero Requena and myself were asked into the meeting. The meeting started at 1:45pm, and at around 3pm we were called in.
President Barroso spoke first, saying he had the covering letter to the OLAF investigation, and that this had been painful from a human point of view, and that Dalli would have to resign.
Dalli said he should have had the possibility to defend himself by his lawyers and that the process was wrong. Barroso replied that Dalli had all the possibilities to seek redress. Dalli said that the damage would have been done.
16:55: On the 16 October 2012, President Barroso met Dalli in his office to inform him of the outcome of the OLAF investigation. The DG legal services Luis Romero Requena and myself were asked into the meeting. The meeting started at 1:45pm, and at around 3pm we were called in.
President Barroso spoke first, saying he had the covering letter to the OLAF investigation, and that this had been painful from a human point of view, and that Dalli would have to resign.
Dalli said he should have had the possibility to defend himself by his lawyers and that the process was wrong. Barroso replied that Dalli had all the possibilities to seek redress. Dalli said that the damage would have been done.
16:46: Barroso's testimony and questioning is now over. Barroso's chief of cabinet Johannes Laitenberg will now be asked to testify.
16:45: Commission lawyers now ask Barroso whether it was common practice to bring in his head of legal services and cabinet chief for such meetings. Barroso says that they were brought in to explain the administrative issues concerning his resignation and how his cabinet team would be affected.
16:43: Barroso says that in such case he would not have issued a press statement. "In that case there would have been no press statement, and think again how best to manage that situation. I was preparing the statements only in the case of the resignation. I insist on this point because the arguments of Mr Dalli are absurd: the best evidence that he resigned of his own free will was that I did not ask him to resign. If I did not want him to continue in the Commission, the best way I had was to terminate his role."
16:41: Dalli's lawyer asks Barroso why was not a press statement prepared in the case that he would have been convinced by Dalli of his innocence.
16:38: Barroso: "Dalli met tobacco representatives without telling anyone in the Commission... if this is a reason not to lose confidence in a commissioner, what is? We were talking about the TPD and it was the commissioner's responsibility to see that everything was being made in terms of the law."
16:37: Dalli's lawyer asks Barroso: "How could you lose confidence [in Dalli] in view of a report that you would not share with Dalli?"
16:35: Barroso: "I read to him what was said in the OLAF covering letter more than once... 'Commissioner Dalli interacted with several officials from the tobacco industry...' - that's what I put as an issue to Mr Dalli."
16:34: Dalli's lawyer asks Barroso whether he gave Dalli any details of the contacts with the tobacco representatives mentioned in the OLAF report.
16:33: Barroso: "According to me, he had to leave. It was for this reason that it was not necesary to seek legal advice. Dalli had time to find legal advice while the process was underway with the Maltese authorities."
16:32: Barroso: "Once again, this was not about legal advice. I told Dalli it would be very difficult to stay in the Commission with this difficult piece of legislation (the TPD) with the necessary state of mind [while facing such accusations]."
16:31: Judge Jaeger tells Barroso to address the court, "not have bilateral small talk" with the plaintiff's lawyer...
16:30: Barroso: "I'm not as learned as you are," he tells Dalli's lawyer. "But I know what my rights according to the Treaty were. I had the right to ask Dalli to leave. On the investigation of OLAF, I ask you to speak to OLAF because it is completely independent. I did not interfere in any aspect of the investigation."
16:29: Barroso is being asked whether he took any legal advice from his own lawyers on the OLAF report.
16:29: "When I had the meeting with Dalli, I did not have the time to consult with the OLAF supervisory committee about the report."
16:28: Barroso: "I was not making a legal verification... for me it was a political question, whether I could keep him in the Commission or not. And from what I read there were more than one reason for him not to stay on."
16:27: Barroso says he read the OLAF report in full, and that he did not check about the validity of the report with the supervisory committee.
16:26: Barroso says that European Commission secretary-general Catherine Day informed him days before the 16 October, “that the conclusion of the OLAF investigation – while made independently, because I never interfered in this investigation – would not be good for Mr Dalli.”
16:25: Dalli's lawyers now asking questions to Barroso.
16:24: Barroso: “I think that after 90 minutes, such an experienced person – we’re not talking about some junior, he was a former minister already excused in a case that forced his resignation but later cleared – discussing with me, thinking aloud together about what was best for him… I think he was completely free of his will. He could have said that he didn’t accept this, and that he would have told me to send him a letter demanding his resignation. We were there together trying to find the best solution. I asked my collaborators to come in to the office to find the best solution. He didn’t ask anyone else. If he felt secure about it, he would have asked someone to come in to the meeting.
“He could have left the room and forced me to take a brave decision… which he did not do. My explanation is that he changed afterwards… he chose another strategy.”
16:21: Papasavvas: Let us suppose for some reason that Dalli was not aware of the content of the meeting before arriving in your office, how free would you consider his resignation – was it a product of his free will or could you consider it otherwise?
16:19: Judge Papasavvas asking questions now.
16:17: Barroso recounts details of their 90-minute meeting. “I was advising him to follow the first option, which he did… interestingly enough, when Mr Romero and Mr Laitenberg came in, Dalli started creating obstacles. I asked Dalli formally if he resigned, and he says ‘yes’. But he was always coming back with arguments, asking for more time, not being always straight, but taking time to articulate his arguments. He was trying to buy time so as to confuse the argument.”
16:15: Barroso: “It was Mr Dalli himself who suggested whether he should write the letter of resignation himself. It was then agreed to allow Mr Romero (head legal services) to draw up the letter – because to protect his innocence, I accepted to include in the letter his denials of the accusations. Dalli resigned voluntarily, after he asked to have his letter, and yet did not send the letter.”
16:13: Barroso: “At a certain moment, while he protested his innocence, I told him… ‘John, do you accept that this is normal to have these kind of contacts in Malta; can you explain to me how this is possible?’ And he told me, ‘yes I know it was inappropriate’.”
16:10: Barroso: The goal of my meeting with him was to have a political decision about whether to keep him in office or not. If it was about the replacement of an institution functionary, there is a disciplinary process. This was a political process, it was my decision, and there is a specific article in the Treaty of the European Union to deal with this situation. According to the OLAF regulation, I was not entitled to give Dalli full access to the OLAF report because it had to be sent to the Maltese Attorney General. Dalli confirmed to me that he knew Silvio Zammit: what is a restaurant owner doing in this review of the Tobacco Products Directive? It was imprudent of Dalli to have these meetings in Malta outside the Commission, meetings that were secret.
Judge: How did you expect Dalli to produce a convincing explanation without making him aware of the report?
16:06: Barroso: “I hoped Dalli could convince me about why he had these meetings with the tobacco representatives. I had a statement ready for the occasion that he resigns, and I read it to him, and he did not object to the statement being issued at 5pm.” Barroso says he read out the statement in front of his cabinet chief and the head of legal services.
Judge Forwood: It is being suggested that you presented Dalli with two versions of a press statement depending on the outcome of the meeting. Can you remember whether you produced them?
Barroso: We were concerned. It gave me no pleasure that one of my commissioners was being investigated. I was not aware of the details but I was concerned, and we discussed the possible consequences of this process (with his head of legal services and his chief of cabinet).
16:00: Barroso says that it was clear that after the July meeting, on the serious investigation underway, he set no agenda for the 16 October meeting that he wanted to discuss it personally with Dalli, and that Dalli should have understood the seriousness of the meeting.
15:58: Barroso answering questions from the rapporteur judge. He said he never read the OLAF report but that he was aware of the investigation before. Seven days before the meeting on 16 October, Barroso was aware that the conclusions of the report would not be positive for Dalli.
15:55: End to a forceful testimony by Barroso.
15:55: "I reserve the right to protect the reputation of this institution fro any defamatory accusations."
15:54: "The honourable solution for him was to resign. What changed his mind afterwards? How can we explain his claims that he was forced to resign? I cannot explain his conspiracy theories. They are completely baseless."
15:53: “Had Dalli stayed on in his post, it would have been impossible to carry on with the review of the TPD. It was clear to me that if Dalli did not resign himself voluntarily, I would have resorted to Article 17 of the Treaty to replace him. I did not, which is why he resigned voluntarily.”
15:52: Barroso says that no written resignation was needed for him to ask for Dalli’s resignation and that Dalli’s replacement was not opposed by MEPs.
“After I called the Maltese prime minister for the first ever time on the OLAF investigation and we agreed to launch the process to replace the commissioner.”
“I have never experienced such circumstances, a similar loss of confidence. I lost completely my political and personal confidence in Dalli when I got to know of these facts, and he could not give me a good explanation about them. Just the fact that he was having strange contacts with the industry during the TPD review. He admitted to me that he had been imprudent about these meetings. In our discussion we talked about how he needed time to defend himself, and that it would be impossible for him to carry out the TPD review while defending himself.”
“Dalli asked me to have full access to the contents of the OLAF report. I told him that I myself could not have access to the report, because there is a regulation that makes it clearly illegal to make the report public before some conditions are met [being submitted to the Maltese attorney general].”
“It was clear, to me, that politically it was unacceptable that he stay on in is position. We had a long discussion and I gave him a clear choice between two alternatives: I asked him what he would do, and he said that he would prefer resigning of his own accord. I could not give him more time, because there could have been leaks, and that this could have been damaging to the institution.”
“To me it was clear that it was politically untenable for Dalli to keep his post as commissioner.”
Barroso says that the OLAF investigations were also sent to the Maltese police. “This was the document that I was provided with. Having read the letter to him, I asked him to comment about it. He did not deny meeting tobacco representatives brought by Mr Zammit… I could not understand how a person responsible for the tobacco products directive could have meetings with members of the tobacco industry, many miles away from the Commissioner, and using a restaurant owner to organize the meeting. This was bizarre.”
“The letter concluded that Commissioner Dalli’s behaviour could be seen as a breach of his dignity to conduct office.”
Barroso said he had met Dalli on 25 July, to speak of the allegations. Then he met on the 16 October, where he read him the contents of the OLAF investigation covering letter. He says that Silvio Zammit was considered by tobacco representatives as the intermediary to get contact with Dalli, and to speak on his behalf. “This was the framework that allowed Zammit to ask for bribes in exchange for the adoption of a proposal to life the ban on snus.”
Outgoing EC president José Manuel Barroso now testifying in English: “I will give you the facts as they happened. Yes – Dalli resigned of his own will in my office on 16 October, 2012. He did it in the most unambiguous manner. Various accusations were made on Dalli, of improper contacts with the tobacco lobby and of being aware of bribery.”
Dalli is asked whether he recalls being told by Barroso that he had lost confidence in him and that the Commission’s reputation was at risk. Dalli says he doesn’t recall the conversation going in that direction. Dalli says this was similar to the way he had been asked to resign by Lawrence Gonzi in 2004 on the basis of false allegations by a private investigator.
15:44: “It was clear, to me, that politically it was unacceptable that he stay on in is position. We had a long discussion and I gave him a clear choice between two alternatives: I asked him what he would do, and he said that he would prefer resigning of his own accord. I could not give him more time, because there could have been leaks, and that this could have been damaging to the institution.” “To me it was clear that it was politically untenable for Dalli to keep his post as commissioner.” Barroso says that the OLAF investigations were also sent to the Maltese police. “This was the document that I was provided with. Having read the letter to him, I asked him to comment about it. He did not deny meeting tobacco representatives brought by Mr Zammit… I could not understand how a person responsible for the tobacco products directive could have meetings with members of the tobacco industry, many miles away from the Commissioner, and using a restaurant owner to organize the meeting. This was bizarre.” “The letter concluded that Commissioner Dalli’s behaviour could be seen as a breach of his dignity to conduct office.” Barroso said he had met Dalli on 25 July, to speak of the allegations. Then he met on the 16 October, where he read him the contents of the OLAF investigation covering letter. He says that Silvio Zammit was considered by tobacco representatives as the intermediary to get contact with Dalli, and to speak on his behalf. “This was the framework that allowed Zammit to ask for bribes in exchange for the adoption of a proposal to life the ban on snus.” Outgoing EC president José Manuel Barroso now testifying in English: “I will give you the facts as they happened. Yes – Dalli resigned of his own will in my office on 16 October, 2012. He did it in the most unambiguous manner. Various accusations were made on Dalli, of improper contacts with the tobacco lobby and of being aware of bribery.” Dalli is asked whether he recalls being told by Barroso that he had lost confidence in him and that the Commission’s reputation was at risk. Dalli says he doesn’t recall the conversation going in that direction. Dalli says this was similar to the way he had been asked to resign by Lawrence Gonzi in 2004 on the basis of false allegations by a private investigator.
15:26: Dalli trails off with this suggestive phrase... "I don't want to enter into the relationship of Barroso and Gonzi."
15:25: Dalli says he found a missed telephone call from Gonzi upon returning to his office; and then he returned the call after meeting his Cabinet. "In that telephone call it was the Prime Minister who said he had received the phone call from Barroso, and that I told him that I did not have any facts at hand as to why Barroso wanted to terminate me."
15:23: In another question, Dalli is asked about a statement made by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi in a statement in parliament, that Dalli had "chosen to resign from the Commission to be in a better position to defend his position: is the Prime Minister wrong in this statement as was recorded in the Maltese parliament?"
15:22: Dalli says he does not recall being read any press release announcing his resignation.
15:21: Dalli now answering questions from lawyers
15:19: Dalli says his feeling was that he had been fired.
15:18: Judge Savvas Papasavvas now asking questions to Dalli.
15:16: Dalli says: "How can a politician stay where he is not wanted?"
15:16: Judge Forwood is reading from an interview he gave in Maltese to Maltese television, in which he stated that he 'does not stay where he is not wanted', and that he was told to resign by Barroso. This interview was presented as evidence by the Commission.
15:14: Dalli says his own head of cabinet and aides told him that they had been instructed not to issue a statement on his behalf.
15:12: Judge Forwood says the press statement announcing his resignation was presented as stating that he had voluntarily resigned. Dalli says he was not allowed by his staff to issue a counter-statement, and that he had to do his own press statement through the press.
15:11: Dalli says Romero left the letter of voluntary resignation on the desk and left.
15:10: "Luis Romero (head legal services) came up with this written resignation, but since it had no motivation mentioned in it, I did not sign it."
15:09: Dalli replies that he said there was no voluntary resignation, and that he "would go, but I told him that I wanted this in writing. And in fact, a written resignation was presened to me some time afterwards, which I didn't sign."
15:09: Forwood: According to the EC, you did not disagree with the statement Barroso made on the fact that you had resigned.
15:08: Judge Forwood now turns to the moment when Barroso's head of cabint and the head of legal services were called in to the meeting.
15:07: Dalli: "I said that I would go, but in the context naturally of the forceful way in which the President was pushing me to leave."
15:06: Dalli says: "My death sentence was signed."
15:05: Judge Forwood says he understands that the choice put to him was "unfair" because he had not given him any information, but that as a politician he should have understood the distinction being made.
15:04: Dalli: "I said I wanted 24 hours for legal advice, and he said no, that I had 30 minutes."
15:03: Dalli says that Barroso gave him choice for him to either be fired or submit his resignation. "But I had no facts upon which to make a choice. Barroso purposely chose not to give me the report, he didn't tell me the agenda of the meeting, and he denied me the chance to speak to a legal consultant."
15:01: Dalli: "He wanted me out."
15:01: Dalli says that he was told by Barroso that he had the authority to fire him, or that he could submit his resignation. It was made to him early on in the meeting. "In the meeting he came in with the decision to terminate me. That's how he came into the meeting, with a definite decision that I will be terminated; I did not know the legal implications. The bottom-line for me was that I would finish from the Commission in disgrace, and my integrity trodden upon..."
14:59: Judge Forwood: Can you explain the choice of two options presented to you?
14:58: The General Court has some questions to make to Dalli now
14:57: Dalli says he went back to his office, called his family first, and then informed his Cabinet that he would no longer be their commissioner. He found a missed call from Lawrence Gonzi, the prime minister, who told him that he had received a call from Barroso. "It was a very short call," Dalli says.
14:56: "I spent in total some 90 minutes, debating that this was a wrong decision. The President kept saying there is no time for debate, time is running out and I have to speak to your prime minister, and that he had issue his statement."
14:55: "At the end, Barroso called his chef de cabinet and the DG legal services, who came in the office, and told them 'He has resigned', but I told them at that point that I was refuting the allegations, that I had asked for the OLAF report, and that I was not given enough time for legal advice, and that the meeting dates set on 11 October for today [16 Oct] for a report that Barroso claimed he knew nothing about."
14:53: Dalli: I would say at this point, if he was a good manager, wouldn't he have preferred to await for the opinion of the OLAF supervisory committee on the way the investigation was carried out. What would five days cost? Why all this speed? These are the questions that come to mind. "The speed was due to the fact that, I was expected to launch the Tobacco Products Directive, which was derailed for the third time."
14:51: "I asked the President to give me the possibility to consult a lawyer and get legal advice on what the situation was and what options were being put to me. I asked for 24 hours to consult a lawyer. He simply looked disdainfully at his watch, and told me, 'I'll give you 30 minutes'. I continued debating with the President for more than an hour, to tell him that his decision was wrong, and harmful as far as my family and I were concerned, and that he had to review and revise the situation."
14:50: Dalli says Barroso told him that he had the authority to fire him, and that "it would be more honourable for me to resign".
14:48: Dalli says Kimberley was never registered as a Swedish Match lobbyist with the Commission register.
14:48: Dalli turns to the meeting with Gayle Kimberley, the Maltese lawyer and former European Council employee, who was contracted by Swedish Match to obtain access to John Dalli.
14:47: Dalli recounts the first meeting with Tomas Hammargren, during his summer holiday in Gozo. He reads from the report Hammargren submitted on this meeting, in which he described Dalli suggesting to him to inquire with his DG-SANCO services to submit any representationon the tobacco directive.
14:45: Dalli says he demanded to know the details of the meetings he was alleged to have with tobacco lobbyists. "If it was for the Commission, we would never known [what the OLAF report contained]..."
14:44: Dalli's voice is breaking up at times - he is visibly emotional as he recounts the details of the resignation
14:43: "As I listened to the conclusions of the OLAF report, I heard him saying that a friend of mine had solicited a bribe for me to lift the EU ban on snus, while at the same time stating that the Tobaco Products Directive had remained unchanged."
14:42: Dalli says Barroso kept the report to his chest, saying the report was confidential, and instead read from the covering letter that OLAF provided on the report of its investigation.
14:41: Dalli says that after entering, Barroso took out the OLAF report: "He said the report is not nice, we have problems, your position is untenable..."
14:40: "I did not know at the time that OLAF had concluded their report, and I did not know what the President wanted to talk to me about."
14:39: On 11 October, Dalli was asked to set meeting with Barroso for the 16 October, with no agenda.
14:38: Judge Jaeger calls Dalli to the stand, where he will be starting proceedings with a statement to the court with regard to declarations made by various parties on 16 October, 2012, when he was asked to resign by Barroso.
14:36: Judges have entered the courtroom.
14:36: Court case starts now...
14:32: And Barroso has arrived as well at the Court of Justice...
14:32:
14:28: Joanna Darmanin was previously one of Joe Borg's aides when the former European commissioner for fisheries was minister of foreign affairs up until 2004. Darmanin was retained by Dalli when he was appointed commissioner in 2009.
14:27: So after Dalli and Barroso, it will be Barroso's chief of cabinet Johannes Laitenberger, and then more witnesses: head of legal services Luis Romero Requena, and former Dalli aides Joanna Darmanin and Frederik Vincent.
14:26:
14:23: Here's a photo of John Dalli in court, sent out on a tweet by Francois Beaudonnet
14:20: The level of Maltese interest in the Dalligate affair is also manifest inside the courtroom: there's a number of Maltese functionaries present here, as well as members of Dalli's family.
14:18: Today's court case is strictly about Dalli's claim of unfair dismissal (read below), and whether Barroso acted within the rules when he sacked Dalli. The lawyers for Dalli and the European Commission have already presented their statements and counter-replies to the court: today could be just 'showtime' for the two rivals.
14:14: Green MEP José Bové is sitting in the courtroom right now: the French MEP has been adamant in his belief that Dalli could have been framed in some unholy conspiracy by Big Tobacco to derail the Tobacco Products Directive.
14:11: Here's a tweet from transparency NGO Corporate European Observatory, which has been following the Dalligate affair and demanding crucial documents to be released to the public over contacts between tobacco lobbyists and the Commission.
14:09: The court in question is the General Court, not the European Court of Justice, which is a superior court.
14:08: The five judges hearing the Dalligate case will be Marc Jaeger (Luxembourg), Nicholas James Forwood (UK), Ingrida Labucka (Latvia), Savvas Papasavvas (Cyprus), and Egidijus Bieliunas (Lithuania).
14:07: The report was critical of the way OLAF carried out the investigation. You can read the full report here: http://corporateeurope.org/sites/default/files/2012-02-opinion-supervisory_committee.pdf
14:06: Also happening today, was the OLAF supervisory committe's report into the way anti-fraud agency OLAF conducted the Dalligate investigation, a draft copy of which had been leaked back in 2013.
14:03: Today will see John Dalli and José Manuel Barroso in court, their first meeting since the resignation of 16 October, 2012.
14:01: Good afternoon: we're live from Luxembourg at the European Court of Justice's general court.
 

 

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso will appear at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg today, on a complaint of unfair dismissal filed by his former health and consumer affairs commissioner John Dalli.

He will answer judges’ questions as a witness, before lawyers from both sides give their arguments on Tuesday.

Dalli says he was forced to resign on 16 October 2012 on the basis of the covering letter to an investigative report by OLAF, the EU's anti-fraud agency, claiming that he was aware of an attempt to solicit a bribe from a Swedish firm, Swedish Match, to influence tobacco rules or reverse an EU retail ban on smokeless tobacco snus.

Barroso’s head of cabinet, Johannes Laitenberger, will be at his side in Luxembourg, as well as the head of the commission’s legal services, Luis Romero Requena.

Dalli’s former head of cabinet, Joanna Darmanin, and former spokesperson, Frederic Vincent, have also been asked to testify.

Dalli wants the Court to annul Barroso’s request for his sudden resignation on grounds he had secret contacts with Swedish Match, a mouth tobacco company.

He also wants the commission to pay a symbolic €1 in damages for the “non financial” harm he has suffered, and compensation for his loss of earnings as a commissioner.

The European Commission insists that Dalli stepped down of his own accord.

European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly has now opened a probe into allegations that the Commission failed to disclose meetings with tobacco lobbyists in contravention of United Nation rules. As a signatory of the World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the EU is required to reveal all meetings with the tobacco industry.

O’Reilley’s probe stems from a complaint by the transparency group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), which says top commission officials from the secretariat-general and members of Barroso's cabinet held 14 undisclosed meetings.

The contested meetings include representatives from tobacco giant Philip Morris International, Swedish Match, and an unregistered lobbyist working for the European Smokeless Tobacco Council.

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.