Dalligate, one year on: transparency and lobbying rules still weak

Corporate European Observatory: essential that Commission puts in place new policies and procedures to ensure that Dalligate cannot happen again

John Dalli
John Dalli

One year after the resignation of John Dalli, former European Commissioner for health and consumer policy, NGOs say the loopholes the case exposed in the Commission's transparency rules still need fixing.

In a saga whose plotlines are worthy of any Hollywood blockbuster, John Dalli resigned on 16 October, after an inquiry by the EU's anti-fraud agency, OLAF, claimed he was aware of trading in influence by his canvasser, Silvio Zammit. Zammit stood accused of attempting to solicit a multimillion-euro bribe from the European smokeless tobacco lobby, ESTOC, and a Swedish company, Swedish Match, in a bid to remove a trading ban on snus.

Dalli was forced to resign by European Commissioner José Manuel Barroso before he could contest the OLAF report's conclusions, which eventually led to criminal proceedings - still ongoing - against Zammit.

The political repercussions in Malta notwithstanding, it's the role of lobbying and the power of the tobacco industry which have captured European interest over the past 12 months.

"The loopholes and weaknesses that Dalligate exposed in the Commission's ethical and transparency rules need urgent fixing," says Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), a research and campaign group working to expose and challenge "the privileged access and influence" enjoyed by corporations and their lobby groups in EU policy making.

"It is essential that the Commission puts in place new policies and procedures to ensure that a scandal like Dalligate cannot happen again. With only seven months before the European Parliamentary elections and less than 18 months before the College of Commission will be renewed, action is needed by Barroso. Otherwise it seems clear that cynicism about EU politics amongst those outside the Brussels bubble will only grow," CEO says.

Its first demand is that the EC remove Michel Petite, the man who took Swedish Match's complaint of alleged bribery to his former co-worker, the EC's Secretary-General, Catherine Day. Petite was the EC's head of legal services before leaving to work for Clifford Chance, from which post he advised Swedish Match. In this case, Petite was also serving on an ad hoc ethical committee which advises the Commission on the propriety of proposed revolving-door moves by departing commissioners.

"We consider that it is not appropriate for Petite to remain in a role where he must advise on the ethical implications of the 'post-office' activities of commissioners," CEO says. NGOs LobbyControl, Corporate Accountability International and CEO have submitted a complaint to the EU Ombudsman to try to overturn the reappointment of Michel Petite.

Another demand is for a mandatory lobby register, which CEO says would force commissioners and EC staff to meet with lobbyists on the register and report all such approaches. As revealed by The Observer, millions were paid by Philip Morris to lobbyists appointed to convince MEPs to vote against the recently approved (if watered-down) Tobacco Products Directive.

"Swedish Match sought out people with private access to John Dalli to exert influence over his decisions, especially regarding the tougher control of tobacco products in the forthcoming Tobacco Products Directive. Swedish Match sent its Public Affairs Director, Johan Gabrielsson, to Malta to facilitate contacts with friends and acquaintances of the commissioner, including Silvio Zammit, and ultimately with Dalli himself. Infringing on the personal sphere of a commissioner in this way, in pursuit of lobbying goals, is inappropriate behaviour," CEO says.

The current Code of Conduct for Commissioners is "far too abstract and full of loopholes" to be effective, CEO says, but the organisation adds that the Commission itself has made no move in strengthening it. In July 2013, the International Herald Tribune reported that Dalli had made undeclared trips to the Bahamas in July 2012, during his time as Commissioner, to allegedly facilitate the transfer of US$100 million on behalf of an unnamed 'African charity' he was helping to set up.

"None of this was declared on Dalli's declaration of interests before he left the Commission. Yet the Commission continues to act as if everything is working well," CEO says.

The recent European Parliamentary vote on the Tobacco Products Directive - which managed to weaken the directive - demonstrated just how successful the tobacco industry has been.

"It is vital that the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, together with the members of the group reviewing the lobby register, put forward strong proposals to control excessive corporate lobbying, including from the tobacco industry; however, the signals from both the president and the review group are not looking positive," CEO says.

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Marcus Iwanik
Why doesn't the government apply the Presidential Pardon toward Silvio Zammit and let him spill the beans. It seemed to be working for others, why not in this case? Maybe the PM is afraid because Mr Zammit knows too much? And why is a Maltese Mep representing Malta and the Maltese people flown to the Bahamas on private jet and his daughter also managed to rent a villa for $8000 a month to accommodate her and her father and all in the name of charity to help some African businessmen and all pro bono, which means for free. Yea right. Wasn't Mr Dalli as an EU Mep advise the EU about his movements? Something is not right and maybe Mr Joe was willing to close the case but I do not think the EU will, not until they get to the bottom of this Dalligate saga. If a man knows for sure he is innocent, he would not resign even if told to do so. After all if he has nothing to hide he would have been vindicated at the end. The truth shall make you free. The truth might also put one in prison.

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