Transparency groups tell Barroso to remove Swedish Match lobbyist on ethics committee

European Ombudsman investigating Michel Petite’s reappointment to ethics committee.

Transparency watchdogs in Brussels have called on European Commission president José Manuel Barroso to revoke the membership of Michel Petite from his ad hoc ethical committee that is expected to regulate lobbying inside the EU.

The groups - Corporate European Observatory, Corporate Accountability International and LobbyControl - claimed that the appointment of Petite, a Clifford Chance lobbyist who serves tobacco giants Philip Morris and also snus producers Swedish Match, violates Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) by having a tobacco lobbyist with vested interests on the committee.

Petite played a central role in taking a complaint from Swedish Match to European Commission secretary-general Catherine Day that kick-started the OLAF investigation into bribery allegations that later forced John Dalli's resignation from the EC: apart from being a former head of the EU's legal services, Petite was also serving Barroso on his ad hoc ethical committee.

"Petite's work for Swedish Match and Phillip Morris creates serious conflicts of interest that make his membership of the ad hoc ethical committee politically untenable," the groups said.

In March the European Ombudsman launched an investigation into Petite's reappointment as EU ethics adviser, following a complaint by Corporate Europe Observatory, Corporate Accountability International and LobbyControl. The Ombudsman is investigating whether Petite's reappointment breaches the requirement for members of the ad hoc ethical committee to be independent and to have an "impeccable record of professional behaviour".

In a letter to Barroso, European Parliament president Martin Schulz and European Council president Herman van Rompuy, the groups said that Petite's "pivotal role" in the events that led to the resignation of Dalli, meant he had an "unacceptable conflict of interest".

Swedish Match contacted Petite for advice on how to deal with a recording of a private telephone call to Dalli's canvasser Silvio Zammit on 29 March 2012, with an official of the smokeless tobacco lobby, in which he suggested a €10 million payment to broker a meeting with Dalli.

On behalf of Swedish Match, Petite then contacted Catherine Day, who in turn passed the complaint to OLAF.

"Throughout this time, Michel Petite sat on the ad hoc ethical committee, which is tasked not only with advising on Commissioners going through the revolving door, but may also 'be requested by the President to deliver opinions on any general ethical question concerning the interpretation of [the] Code of Conduct [for Commissioners]'.

"It is therefore conceivable that the Commission President could have referred the complaint by Swedish Match to the ad hoc ethical committee. This would have put Mr Petite in an absurd conflict of interest, in a position of not only 'judge, jury and executioner', but prosecutor to boot," the organisations said in their statement.

More in Dalligate
Transparency watchdogs should have asked for the resignation of Barroso who so blatantly and without any shred of evidence, condemned John Dalli, clearly the subject of a massive frame up, and has condemned Malta in the process. In my opinion, the buck stops with Barroso and he must now be made to leave. Europeans are losing their trust in the EU Commission and this is all due to such gross mismanagement. The UK will shortly start the slide away from Europe - the Government there is at a loss with major losses of the electorate disillusioned with the EU. The rest of Europe will follow unless Barroso and others are forced to resign NOW.

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