The European Union's top health official resigned today (16 October) after an anti-fraud investigation connected him to an attempt to influence EU tobacco legislation, the European Commission said.
The EU's anti-fraud office OLAF found that a Maltese businessman had tried to use his contacts with Commissioner John Dalli, who is Maltese, for financial gain by offering to influence future EU legislation on tobacco products.
"The OLAF report did not find any conclusive evidence of the direct participation of Mr Dalli but did consider that he was aware of these events," the Commissions said in a statement, saying that Dalli had resigned with immediate effect.
The statement said it was up to Maltese judicial authorities to decide if they wanted to pursue the case.
Dalli has rejected OLAF's finding. "Even though the OLAF report states that there is no evidence of my direct participation in these events and that the decision making process of the Commission Services had not been influenced in any way", OLAF concluded that I was aware of these events basing themselves ONLY on circumstantial evidence," Dalli said in a statement, denying that he was in any way aware of any of these events.
Dalli was first elected to the Maltese parliament in 1987 and became parliamentary secretary for industry. He later became Minister of Economic Affairs before serving as Minister of Finance for 10 years, with the rare distinction of having introduced VAT twice – the second after the short-lived Labour government removed the tax in 1996.
Vice President Maros Sefcovic will take over the portfolio of Commissioner Dalli on an interim basis until a new commissioner is appointed by the Maltese government.
The president of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party Sir Graham Watson MEP said:
"I welcome the move by Commissioner Dalli to stand down in light of allegations made in order to allow investigations to proceed.
If former Commissioners had behaved in the same way, the Commission and the European Union would have been spared much embarrassment."
Jana Mittermaier, Director of the Transparency International EU Office, said in a statement:
"The Commission statement is a worrying sign that despite the efforts made in recent years to clean up, selling influence and personal connections may still be a feature of EU lobbying. If that is the case, EU institutions need to take anti-corruption measures much more seriously. This includes strict adherence to the Code of Conduct for Commissioners and a mandatory register for lobbyists and interest groups. We note that OLAF has handed its report to the Maltese Attorney General and we look forward to a thorough investigation and swift resolution of the allegations.”
The SmokeFree Partnership (SFP) took note of the resignation of the Health Commissioner John Dalli over allegations made by a tobacco company related to the review of the Tobacco Products Directive.
Florence Berteletti Kemp, Director of SFP, said:
“This is an unfortunate event, given the importance of the portfolio. A few months ago, we exposed the tobacco industry’s block, amend and delay tactic on the 2001 Tobacco Products Directive and warned that these tactics are being deployed again in this review process. At the time, we emphasized that policy-makers need to be aware of how the tobacco industry tries to influence the legislation – and when it cannot, to block or delay the process."
UNITAB, the European Union of Tobacco Growers, added:
"Today we call on the EU Commission to abandon the proposals developed by Mr. Dalli and begin again with a fair and transparent TPD revision process that results in tobacco regulations that will both protect public health and our jobs during this time of crisis."
John Dalli's interim replacement Maroš Šefčovič must not allow further delays to legislation on tobacco products - originally promised in 2010 - according to Matthias Groote, Chair of the European Parliament's Environment and Public Health Committee.
"I welcome Mr Dalli's decision to step down as Commissioner so that due process can take place in the wake of the allegations that have been made."
The long wait for Commission proposals on tobacco products is becoming a never-ending story. I urge Mr Šefčovič to take the Commission's foot off the brakes and publish the tobacco proposals before the end of this year."