A heady climate for Brussels’ revolving door policy

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Cann: The European Commission is guilty of employing officials who are compromised and cannot be objective. [Amio Cajander/Flickr]

As negotiations at the climate talks in Paris move into their second week, the revolving door in Brussels continues to spin energetically, writes Vicky Cann.

Vicky Cann is a campaigner with Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), a Brussels-based non-governmental organisation, which runs the RevolvingDoorWatch project.

The protection of the environment and the avoidance of catastrophic climate change are paramount tasks for the EU institutions. But we also know that there are many corporate lobbies which fight tooth and nail against effective climate action, obstructing policies that would effectively cut emissions and leave fossil fuels in the ground.

The revolving door between the institutions and the energy industry represents a failure of conflicts of interest rules and a failure to ensure a sufficient distance between the public sector and energy lobbies. Too often our public institutions appear to turn a blind eye to the pro-corporate networks, mind-set and bias that industry recruits might bring, as well as to possible conflicts of interest which could see energy lobbies benefiting from the know-how and contact books of former insiders.

Some recent cases have been especially shocking, with the European Commission at the top of our charge sheet.

Commission official Marcus Lippold used to work at ExxonMobil, a company well-known for blocking climate change policies. He then went on to work for DG Energy where he was latterly responsible for cooperation with OPEC, the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. Now he is on sabbatical from the executive, and has taken two new roles.

The first was with MOL Group (a major oil and gas corporation based in Central and Eastern Europe) where he became vice-president for business strategy and corporate affairs in August 2013. MOL is in the EU lobby register and, despite being on sabbatical from the European Commission, Lippold lobbied his former DG several times with his MOL hat on, to discuss the implementation of the oil stocks directive in two member states.

On his second sabbatical, as of April 2015, Lippold is now working for Saudi Aramco, where he is responsible for the company’s regional corporate planning and policy in Europe and Russia. Owned by Saudi Arabia, a country which has been blocking action on climate change for years, Saudi Aramco is the world’s biggest oil and gas company.

The Commission authorised both of these sabbaticals, albeit under “certain limited conditions” (which it has not revealed) despite the fact that Lippold not only previously worked for DG Energy but was also responsible for relations with OPEC.  As an official on sabbatical, Lippold retains a right to return to an equivalent job afterwards.

In another shocking revolving doors case, Aleksandra Tomczak joined the executive in February 2015 as EU coal policy coordinator, after over four years at the World Coal Association (WCA), the global lobby association for the coal industry. Ms Tomczak worked at the WCA, first as a European specialist and then as a policy manager. In that latter role, she was prominent in the public debate about the future of coal and authored many articles promoting the WCA’s view on the benefits of coal.

When Ms Tomczak first joined the European Commission as EU coal policy coordinator, she was prevented from meeting with the coal industry unless accompanied by another colleague from the Commission and was told not to be involved in files concerning decisions related to individual coal companies or national coal sectors. But these restrictions rather miss the point. In our view, the executive has a clear responsibility not to appoint officials to roles where there is a realistic risk that an individual will not be able to be objective and impartial. It seems remarkable that a coal industry advocate should have so seamlessly moved into an EU coal policy-making role.

There have been many other shocking revolving door cases in recent years involving the energy industry. In the Commission, these authorisations and appointments go ahead because the rules are inadequate and/ or are not properly enforced. For the European Parliament, it is the effective absence of revolving door rules which allows former MEPs to move so swiftly to private energy and environmental lobby work.

Chris Davies championed carbon capture and storage (CCS) during his 15 years as an MEP on the European Parliament’s environment committee, and he worked closely with corporate interests to do so. Now he has set up his own environmental lobby consultancy and is working with Fleishman-Hillard, one of Brussels’ biggest lobby firms.

Meanwhile, Holger Krahmer was also active on the Parliament’s environment committee and as a substitute member of the committee on industry, research and energy. A few months after leaving the Parliament, Krahmer started working for the lobby consultancy firm Hanover Communication. Now he is director of European affairs public policy and government relations at Opel, the car maker.

It’s clear that the EU institutions need to develop far tougher rules to block the revolving door and prevent the resulting conflicts of interest. We also need an end to a political culture of cosiness with the interests of big business in the EU institutions. The risks for people and climate are just far too great.

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