Two articles in last week's European Voice highlight the unanswered questions still surrounding the resignation of John Dalli, the European commissioner for health, and the implications of the scandal for transparency and ethics regulation (“Commission under fire over tobacco lobbying” and “EU fails again to grasp the rules of propriety”, 10-16 January).
The lack of transparency about dealings by the offices of José Manuel Barroso, the Commission's president, and the Commission's secretariat-general with the tobacco-industry lobbyists has rightly been put under the spotlight.
The questions, though, go further. Documents obtained by the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) under freedom-of-information laws reveal that a Bavarian tobacco and snuff producer, Pöschl Tabak, raised its concerns about the tobacco-products directive with Edmund Stoiber, the chairman of an advisory body created by the European Commission, the High-level Group of Independent Stakeholders on Administrative Burdens. Stoiber later took up the concerns with Dalli and lobbied him to weaken his plans.
The correspondence shows that Stoiber committed himself to, as a minimum, promote exemptions and long transitional periods for small and medium-sized companies in the review of the directive, ignoring the potential health benefits of stricter tobacco regulation.
The High-Level Group on Administrative Burdens has already been criticised, including by MEPs, for having a deregulation agenda and for endangering current standards for environmental, health, safety and social-policy legislation. The group seems to be becoming a magnet for companies unhappy with proposed EU regulation, providing them with direct and privileged access to commissioners and other high-level EU decision-makers.
The Commission should come clean once and for all about the extent of industry lobbying on the tobacco directive and Dalli's resignation. That way it could also address concerns about transparency and the behaviour of lobbyists. It must also ensure Stoiber and other members of the High-Level Group cannot act as lobbyists or use their positions to try to weaken legislation on industry's behalf.