Dalli loses claim against dismissal from European Commission

Former European Commissioner had accused EC of dimissing him unfairly, and filed claim in General Court of the European Court of Justice.

John Dalli (right) was found to have tendered his resignation voluntarily, and that his claim of unfair dismissal against former EC president José Barroso, did not hold any water.
John Dalli (right) was found to have tendered his resignation voluntarily, and that his claim of unfair dismissal against former EC president José Barroso, did not hold any water.

Former European Commissioner John Dalli has lost a court claim against his dismissal from the European Union’s executive arm.

The EU General Court, the union’s second-highest court, stated: “The General Court dismisses the action of the former Commissioner John Dalli concerning the fact that (former European Commission President Jose Barroso) allegedly required him to resign.”

“Mr Dalli in fact resigned voluntarily at a meeting with President Barroso on 16 October 2012.”

Dalli filed the claim for unfair dismissal after he claimed he was forced to resign his post as European Commissioner by president José Manuel Durao Barroso on 16 October 2012, on the strength of the covering letter to an OLAF report alleging that circumstantial evidence existed that Dalli was aware of a €60 million bribe to reverse tobacco rules.

The case centres around the question of whether Dalli was sacked from the Commission by Barroso, or not, when on 16 October 2012, the two met to discuss the covering letter of a report by anti-fraud agency OLAF.

OLAF claimed there was circumstantial evidence showing that Dalli was aware of a €60 million bribe being solicited by a former canvasser, Silvio Zammit, from Swedish Match and the European Smokeless Tobacco Council (Estoc) to reverse an EU retail ban on snus tobacco.

Barroso insisted that the Commission’s reputation was at risk as far as the tobacco industry and public opinion were concerned, and that Dalli – having been in contact with representatives of the tobacco industry in unofficial and confidential meetings – could be in breach of his duty to behave in keeping with the dignity and the duties of his office.

Dalli claimed that Barroso orally demanded his resignation, and sought an annulment of that alleged oral request. The Commission disputed the allegation and contended that Dalli resigned voluntarily.

Towards the end of their face-to-face meeting, they were joined by the Head of President Barroso’s Cabinet, Johannes Laitenberger, and the Director-General of the Commission’s Legal Service, Luis Romero Requena. An hour after the meeting ended, Romero Requena handed Dalli a draft letter of resignation. Dalli deleted some of the text of that letter but did not alter the part concerning his resignation.

Barroso, Dalli and all witnesses appeared in the ECJ’s general court in Luxembourg to testify on the claims and for the Court to establish whether Dalli resigned orally or not.

Court’s conclusion

The General Court rested on the following facts to come down to its decision

  1. A statement made by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi in parliament on 16 October 2012 that he had received a telephone call that day from Dalli, during which the latter had explained that he would challenge any allegation made against him but that he had decided to resign in order better to defend himself;
  2. An interview Dalli gave to a radio station on 16 October 2012 in which he presented his departure from the Commission as a political choice freely made, stating in particular that ‘I do not stay where I am not wanted’ when the journalist suggested that President Barroso had forced him to resign;
  3. Dalli did not challenge the press statement issued by the Commission on16 October 2012, although he was aware of that statement which referred to his resignation;
  4. The absence of any official declaration on Dalli’s part, in particular in his own press statement issued on the evening of 16 October 2012, denying that he had resigned as announced by the Commission;
  5. The limited nature of the handwritten annotations made by Dalli to the draft letter of resignation;
  6. The account of the meeting drawn up by Romero Requena on 18 October 2012 (before Dalli first disputed either the fact or the legality of his resignation), according to which Dalli “while categorically denying the accusations against him, stated that in order to defend his reputation he was presenting his resignation as a member of the European Commission with immediate effect.”

The court found that Dalli resigned voluntarily, with no formal request for his resignation having been made by Barroso.

The court said that Barroso had, at an early stage of the meeting, decided “in view of Mr Dalli’s failure to provide a full and convincing explanation when faced with OLAF’s conclusions, that Mr Dalli should leave the Commission, and that he was determined, should it prove necessary, to exercise his power under the TEU to request Mr Dalli’s resignation to achieve that end.”

It said that Barroso remained willing to accord him the favour of resigning voluntarily, without a formal request from the President.

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