The European Commission has snubbed an EU watchdog’s demand for more transparency in the executive’s dealings with Big Tobacco, drawing further criticism from the European Ombudsman.
Emily O’Reilly had called on the executive to publish online every meeting officials have with tobacco lobbyists. The Ombudsman investigates maladministration in the EU institutions.
Today (8 February), O’Reilly said she “strongly regretted” the rebuff, which meant the Commission effectively ignored United Nations health guidelines and the fact Big Tobacco lobbies across multiple departments (DGs).
The Commission, which has had a turbulent record on tobacco lobbying, said it acts in accordance with the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
2005’s convention requires signatories, which include the EU, to be accountable and transparent over relations with the tobacco industry. Only the executive’s health department adhered to the convention, O’Reilly said, despite rules stating ‘all branches of government’ come under the scope of the FCTC.
“Public health demands the highest standard,” she said in a statement that could precede a damning indictment of the Commission in her final report.
“This is a missed opportunity by the Juncker Commission to show global leadership in the vital area of tobacco lobbying,” O’Reilly said. “It appears that the sophistication of global lobbying efforts by big tobacco continues to be underestimated.”
O’Reilly began the investigation into tobacco lobbying, after a complaint by NGO Corporate Europe Observatory. The watchdog is tasked with finding “friendly solutions” to complaints.
While the Ombudsman cannot force the European Commission to follow her recommendations, she can embarrass the executive with her final report.
In October 2015, O’Reilly branded the Commission’s transparency policy on tobacco lobbying “inadequate, unreliable, and unsatisfactory”, but the executive has decided to ignore her recommendation.
The Ombudsman, who said the Juncker Commission had made some progress on other areas of transparency, will consult with Corporate Europe Observatory before drawing up her final conclusions.
Corporate Europe Observatory’s research and campaigns coordinator Olivier Hoedeman said in October, “The Commission’s complacency and secrecy over its contacts with the tobacco industry are deeply regrettable – but part of a pattern.
“We hope it will finally get the message that it must fulfil its UN obligations and take strong measures to prevent the undue influence of tobacco lobbyists.”
The previous Barroso Commission was rocked by the Dalligate graft scandal. Health Commissioner John Dalli was sacked by former Commission President José Manuel Barroso in October 2012, after an anti-fraud investigation connected him to a €60 million attempt to influence EU tobacco legislation.
>>Read: Dalligate coverage
Research released in 2014 found that tobacco firm Philip Morris had spent the most amount of money lobbying the EU.