Busuttil says he had no position on tobacco as MEP

Simon Busuttil listed as having shown views that were positive to the tobacco industry, according to tobacco lobbyists’ MEP list.

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Matthew Vella
14 October 2014, 7:11am
Simon Busuttil says he met both tobacco lobbyists and health NGOs on the Tobacco Products Directive.
Simon Busuttil says he met both tobacco lobbyists and health NGOs on the Tobacco Products Directive.
France 2's CASH Investigation displayed documents showing that Philip Morris International lobbyists targeted the Commissioner directly.
France 2's CASH Investigation displayed documents showing that Philip Morris International lobbyists targeted the Commissioner directly.
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil has declared having met both tobacco lobbyists inside the European Parliament, as well as members from health NGOs, during an intensive campaign to influence MEPs on their votes in the controversial Tobacco Products Directive.

The law tightening smoking legislation, spearheaded by former European Commissioner John Dalli before resigning on 16 October 2012 over allegations that he had entertained a bribe for the weakening of the rules, was being opposed by lobbyists from Philip Morris International, the tobacco giant.

According to an Excel sheet that had been leaked by transparency NGO Corporate European Observatory, and featured in a recent exposé on French channel France 2 on tobacco lobbying, Philip Morris lobbyists in Brussels would list all MEPs according to their opinions on tobacco issues.

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Simon Busuttil was listed as having shown views that were positive to the tobacco industry, according to the lobbyists’ MEP list.

The tobacco lobbyists used a colour scheme to show the opinions of all MEPs on six key issues. Green means positive for the tobacco industry, red means negative. The key issues are Generic Packaging [GP], Expanded Health Warnings [EHW], Ingredients Ban [IB], Point of Sales Display Ban [POSDB], New Generation Products [NGP] and Snus. The latter refers to tobacco taken directly into the mouth in small pouches, which is only legal in Sweden, and was the sticking point that led to allegations that Dalli entertained a bribe to lift the EU retail ban on smokeless tobacco.

A spokesperson for Simon Busuttil confirmed with MaltaToday that the former EPP member had met both tobacco and health lobbyists on the TPD, but that Busuttil “had no position on the law”, pointing out that Busuttil had resigned as MEP before the vote on the TPD.

Corporate European Observatory had said that a synopsis of the different lists showed that Philip Morris International identified almost 130 MEPs that supported the company’s position on not expanding health warnings on the packaging. In contrast, slightly more than 40 MEPs were against the tobacco industry’s plans.

‘Target the Commissioner’

The France 2 investigative programme ‘Cash Investigation’ last week suggested that the tobacco industry could have forced the removal of John Dalli, quoting from a 600-page internal document form PMI.

The crucial piece of the document were slides showing a strategy to “target European Commissioner”, using Brussels and international stakeholders, the media in both pan-European as well national media.

Another slide is titled “Strategy: possible Commission reverse tactics”, featuring the objective to “achieve extreme measures by stealth”.

Dalli, shown the documents during the France 2 programme, said they were evidence that he had been targeted by tobacco lobbyists in a bid to spike the Tobacco Products Directive.

Later in the week, Dalli circulated a copy of the France 2 programme to Maltese newsrooms as well as the list of MEPs showing Simon Busuttil’s name as having been partial to tobacco lobbyists’ concerns on the TPD.

There is no love lost between Simon Busuttil and Dalli: Busuttil claimed that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat interfered in a police investigation to get Dalli off the hook from prosecution on the alleged bribery; Busuttil was referring to claims in court by the former police commissioner John Rizzo, who said he wanted to file bribery charges against Dalli but did not do because of the March 2013 election. His successor, Peter Paul Zammit, however had declared shortly after the election that there was no evidence to be brought against Dalli.

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Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.