Surprising allies: from the Dreyfus affair to Dalligate

James Debono meets Jose Bove, the iconic Green politician known for his militancy against multinational chains and GM crops, about the reverberations of Dalligate in Maltese and European democracy

French MEP José Bové is convinced Dalligate was a “set-up by the tobacco lobby to bring down the commissioner”.
French MEP José Bové is convinced Dalligate was a “set-up by the tobacco lobby to bring down the commissioner”.

Spotting the pipe-smoking, Asterix-lookalike sitting on a bench outside the departure lounge of the Malta airport was fairly easy. I catch up with him as he's leaving the island after a two-day visit, during which he met government officials and the media in view of the latest revelations on the John Dalli case.

Twice jailed for destroying genetically modified crops, José Bové once found himself at loggerheads with former Commissioner John Dalli, whose first decision was to lift a 13-year ban on GM amflora potatoes.

He now finds himself raising questions about the way John Dalli was brought down from the EU commission, through what Bové describes as "a set up by the tobacco industry".

Bové also questions the failure of the Gonzi administration to stand up for Malta's "honour," by failing to raise any questions on the way the Maltese commissioner was treated.

José Bové draws parallels between the Dalli case and the Dreyfus affair - a French political scandal which revolved around the conviction for treason in November 1894 of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a young French artillery officer of Alsatian-Jewish descent.

While stressing the differences between the two cases, Bové points out that the people who defended Dreyfus were from the opposite side of the political spectrum and immediately suspected that the charges were motivated by anti-Semitism.

"He was a soldier and a militarist who was defended by leftists and anarchists".

He recalls that he was on the opposite side to Dalli on the GM issue during various meetings in Brussels.

"But even if we disagreed, there was a climate of mutual respect".

He recalls meeting Dalli just after the scandal broke out.

"He told me that the accusations against him were untrue and that he was going to fight to prove his innocence".

Bové immediately told Dalli that he would carry out his own investigation.

After several months probing the case, Bové is convinced that the whole thing was a "set up by the tobacco lobby to bring down the commissioner".

The reason for this was to delay the tobacco directive, which included a ban on snus and further restrictions on tobacco packaging.

"Each year they won by delaying the directive meant millions of euros for them. Their only concern is making money and they do not care for the health of citizens".

I point out to Bové that the tobacco directive was still approved, with some minor changes, immediately after Tonio Borg replaced Dalli.

Does this not weaken his case, which hints at a conspiracy involving tobacco lobbyists and EU officials with the sole aim of delaying the directive?

Bové changes tack, attributing the quick approval of the directive to the vigilance of health campaigners and the Green group in the European Parliament.

"We began fighting just after 16 October to ensure the approval of the directive proposed by Dalli. We warned that we were going to be very careful and that if it is changed it would simply confirm the suspicions... they were afraid of this and did not change the directive."

The most sinister aspect of the case according to Bové is the various links between the tobacco industry and the EU institutions.

He refers to the role of Michel Petite - a lobbyist for Clifford Chance, which represents Philip Morris, Swedish Match's American partners - who was the first to learn of a recording that ESTOC, Swedish Match's lobby, had of a conversation in which Silvio Zammit floated the price of €10 million to broker a meeting with Dalli. Petite subsequently communicated with Secretary-General Catherine Day about the matter before Swedish Match filed its official complaint on 21 May 2012.

Bové also raises questions on the failure of the Maltese government to stand up to the European Commission to defend Malta's honour in this case.

"I think the previous government did nothing to defend Malta's reputation, by asking for a proper investigation and asking why the decision was taken so quickly".

He is convinced that the Commission would not have dealt in the same way with a commissioner hailing from a big country like Germany or France.

"We are 28 countries now in Europe. Judging by what happened to Comissioner Dalli, not all countries are equal, and Malta has been considered in this story as a secondary country".

He is baffled by the silence of the Gonzi administration and goes so far as to question it.

"Did this happen because the Maltese government was informed before it happened and they had agreed to stay silent?"

If this was the case, the Maltese government was acting "stupidly" and "undermining its authority in Europe".

Bové refers to the fact that Barrosso visited Malta and met Lawrence Gonzi on October 5 for a 5+5 summit.

"We know at that time Barroso phoned to check whether the OLAF report was already finished".

Bové thinks this could suggest that the Maltese government was aware of the OLAF investigation before Dalli's resignation. In the past, Gonzi has stressed that Barroso never spoke to him about the anti-fraud investigation involving Dalli until the day of his resignation, adding that Barroso did not even raise the subject, directly or indirectly, when he was in Malta for the 5+5 summit a few days before.

Bové also expects the new Muscat government to raise the issue at the European level.

"Just as the Greens have ensured that this matter will be debated in front of the European Parliament, the Maltese government should ensure that this matter is discussed in the European Council, where governments are represented".

He also thinks, in view of the new evidence - namely, the leaked report issued by the Supervisory Committee, which found various flaws in the OLAF report - that there are no grounds upon which to prosecute Dalli locally.

Putting Dalligate in perspective, Bové thinks that it is a reflection of much of what has gone wrong with the European project. But unlike Eurosceptics, he remains a firm believer in greater European unity.

"While the reaction of many people hearing about such cases is that European institutions have completely failed and Europe has no sense, we see this as a case for more transparency and democracy in Europe".

He also makes it clear that his aim is to strengthen OLAF, which he considers a vital institution in combating fraud in the EU.

In fact one of Bové's primary motivations in calling for greater transparency in this case is to bolster European institutions and not undermine them; and growing Euroscepticism amidst the economic and legitimacy crisis worries him.

"We believe that to get out of the crisis we need more Europe, not less Europe... it would be impossible to get out of this mess if each country tried to find a solution for itself".

But the only way Europe can become more united is through "more democracy and transparency", the two things lacking in the Barroso commission.

"This case shows clearly that Europe currently has a problem with both democracy and transparency, as without transparency there is no democracy".

Bové would like Jose Manuel Barroso's successor to be elected by EU citizens.

So what is the next step forward?

For Bové, three people have "a big problem" at the European level, namely OLAF chief Giovanni Kessler, General-Secretary Catherine Day and Commissioner Barroso.

As regards Kessler, Bové expresses no hesitation in calling him to quit.

"He made a big mess and should resign from OLAF immediately".

When asked about Kessler's motivations in the case, Bové refers to Kessler's declaration in the Italian Parliament, where he spoke in favour of retaining cigarette packaging, something which was not allowed in the directive proposed by Dalli.

In his speech Kessler cited a survey in which 85% of UK police officers said plain packaging would make counterfeiting easier and cheaper.

"I don't know if this was the reason... but this is strange and it is remarkable that so many institutions seem to have links with the tobacco lobby".

But Kessler's main fault was that "his investigation went only in one direction... it is difficult to say whether he did this on purpose or not, but it is strange".

He accuses Secretary-General Catherine Day of serving as a link between Michel Petite and Swedish Match.

"She sent emails to Swedish Match two, three minutes after the publication of Dalli's resignation, something which one does not expect from a secretary-general. She also had a lot of unpublicised meetings with the tobacco industry... this was strange too".

The big question remains, Should Barroso resign?

"He was the one who decided to kick out Dalli without respecting the rules. Why did he do this so quickly, without waiting a few more days to ensure that the Supervisory Committee conducts his work?"

Bové was referring to the fact that European Commission President Jose Barroso did not ask OLAF if it had consulted the SC on this sensitive case before proceeding to kick Dalli out.

Barroso also has to explain why his office was involved in unpublicised meetings with the tobacco industry.

"How can we trust him anymore? He should explain himself in front of both Parliament and the Council".

"If they resign now, it would be good for the European Union because those who are putting the case on the table are not against Europe but want more Europe. This would be the good moment one year before the European elections, to start changing things". 

Taljani kollha MAFIA!!!!!!!!!