Dalligate: from Brussels to Sweden

Three observers of the unfolding story around John Dalli’s resignation offer their take on the story.

John Dalli with José Bové, in discussion after one of his controversial decisions to reverse a GMO crop ban.
John Dalli with José Bové, in discussion after one of his controversial decisions to reverse a GMO crop ban.

Alexandros Koronakis (@akoronakis)

Director, New Europe newspaper

Dalli yet another a casualty of Tobacco?

I had the opportunity to interview John Dalli twice during the last week, but more importantly spend time with him discussing the case, on and off the record, in a series of meetings.

Dalli was doing rough work in the European Commission, and the most important task he's had during his term as Commissioner for Health and Consumers, was the Tobacco Products Directive.

He had been working on it for many months, and his principles were simple:

We must do what we can to stop the hundreds of thousands of deaths from tobacco-related illnesses every year. We must stop from allowing the tobacco industry to market or appear appealing to teenagers and children.  And we must look at all tobacco-related products in order to do this.

Dalli was vigilant, and set the basis for the Tobacco Products Directive without allowing the multi-million euro arms of the tobacco lobby to get to him.

Alas, when they tried to bribe him and failed, they filed a complaint to the EU's anti-fraud office (OLAF). I have not seen any evidence (and by OLAF's own admission there is none) that suggests Dalli was offered money to affect legislation. Nevertheless, on October 16, Dalli was forced to resign by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, on the basis of a report Dalli was not shown, and based on evidence that is 'circumstantial'.

I expect the issue of Dalli's announced resignation will become more clear in the next few weeks. But what is clear is that procedures were not followed, by the European Commission President, and claims as to OLAF's procedural handling of this case have to be addressed individually and not by a press release.

If this happened at the national level, if the Prime Minister of a country did this to his Minister of Health, with this pretext, in this context, and with this evidence. The press, the opposition, and the national parliament would have the Prime Minister's head.

If Barroso gets away with it, it is because sadly, not enough people in Europe care about this issue. Barroso would never get away with such non-transparent behaviour at the national level. His motives are unclear, and unknown.  But who cares? Right?

The death of the Tobacco Products Directive means billions of euros of financial benefit for 'big tobacco'. This was the biggest piece of legislation affecting tobacco products in recent history.

Christopher Snowdon (@cjsnowdon)

Fellow at Institute of Economic Affairs, author of Velvet Glove, Iron Fist: A History of Anti-Smoking

A good day for the anti-tobacco lobby's conspiracy theories.

All in all, it's been a pretty successful week for the anti-tobacco lobby. The Dalli scandal could have resulted in people asking important questions about what snus is and why a product that helped Sweden achieve the lowest smoking rate in Europe is banned in the EU.

Instead, anti-smoking groups have joined forces with Dalli to push conspiracy theories for which there is no evidence whatsoever. The alleged burglary at the Rue de Tréves certainly did the anti-smoking groups a big favour in public relation terms.

With Dalli now playing the victim, a story about EU corruption has become a campaign of vague innuendo against the tobacco industry. The fact that it was Swedish Match who blew the whistle on the whole shenanigans in the first place is already being forgotten. 

The anti-tobacco lobby shrewdly used its moment in the spotlight to keep the pressure on the EC to toughen up the forthcoming Tobacco Products Directive.

That legislation was never likely to be significantly delayed because of this scandal, but whoever replaces Dalli will now feel pressure to make it still more draconian. The real question is whether the Tobacco Products Directive repeals the snus ban. The EC accepted years ago that this form of smokeless tobacco is not carcinogenic, and studies have shown that many lives would be saved if smokers were able to switch to it.

At the moment, they can't, and - as damning as the Dalli allegations are - that is the real scandal.

Annie Reuterskiold (@reuterskiold)

Political reporter, Expressen newspaper

Big attention from Swedish media

The story on John Dalli and Swedish Match has been covered in all the large newspapers and TV news bulletins in Sweden. Snuff, or snus, is widely used in Sweden and therefore concerns a lot of readers and viewers.

The general understanding in the media being reinforced by the last statement from OLAF, is that Silvio Zammit has contacted Swedish Match to get them to pay an amount of €60 million in order to reverse the ban on the snus export via his close contacts with Dalli, using the commissioner's name in his offer. It is also generally believed that John Dalli was aware of these contacts and offers to Swedish Match and chose to do nothing.

Both Silvio Zammit's and John Dalli's statements have been reported, as well as their claim to innocence, which sheds light on the strong interest of big tobacco trying to delay a more severe EU directive.

The break-in at three Brussels-based anti-tobacco organisations also got attention, and the suspicion from several different angles from think-tanks, lobbyists and other politicians that this was staged by the tobacco industry. Also there are several editorials on the conspiracy theories going around in EU and international media, saying that they might be true in some aspects, since the new directive now will be delayed working in advance for the tobacco companies.