Looking back at the tobacco lobbying battle: Philip Morris’ allies in the European Parliament
The final version of the Tobacco Product Directive (TPD), a new law that strengthens the rules on how tobacco products are manufactured, produced and marketed in the EU, has just come into force. With the European Parliament elections approaching we look back at the lobbying battle around the TPD and provide, for the first time, online access to (parts of) tobacco giant Philip Morris’ leaked lobby strategy documents. We also offer a list of the ten MEPs from the current Parliament who have – according to the leaked documents – the strongest relations to Philip Morris.
By the summer of 2013, many Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) were getting fed up with the aggressive lobbying by the tobacco industry. MEPs complained about “unsolicited tobacco lobbyists turning up in their offices; numerous invitations to drinks, dinners and cocktail events; targeted social media and email campaigns coordinated by tobacco companies; indirect lobbying through small retailers, anti-counterfeiting firms and farmers’ groups; and, allegations of industry-sourced amendments.”
The unease among MEPs further increased in September last year when internal documents of the tobacco giant Philip Morris leaked. The Guardian newspaper was the first to report on the leak, which showed that the company had (undisclosed) lobby meetings with no less than 233 MEPs. At least 161 of the company’s staff were involved in this lobbying offensive, the newspaper reported. The European media including Der Spiegel and Le Parisien reported extensively about the leaked documents which outline the lobbying strategies and activities of tobacco giant Philip Morris International to attempt to influence the European Parliament’s decision-making on the TPD.
The revelations sparked angry reactions from MEPs, such Karl-Heinz Florenz, a Christian Democrat MEP, who condemned the lobbying methods as “leprosy for democracy”. Many MEPs who supported strong tobacco regulation criticised colleagues for their meetings with Philip Morris’ lobbyists and for being too close to big tobacco. Showing what they were up against, the leak stiffened the resolve among pro-regulation MEPs to protect the TPD from being sabotaged by tobacco industry lobbyists.
The leak (which consists of hundreds of pages of documents, compiled in two large pdf files) gives a unique insight into the lobbying strategy of a large multinational company. Some of the files outline PMI’s lobbying strategy towards the European Commission (see TobaccoTactics for a summary of these efforts). The tobacco giant maintained lists of every single Member of European Parliament (MEP) and their views on tobacco regulation, featuring explanatory comments by MEP’s names such as: “Very supportive – receptive to nanny state arguments”, or, “wishes not to meet PMB [Philip Morris Benelux] but is supportive of PM views”. This allows Philip Morris International (PMI) to build up a comprehensive picture of the political support they enjoy, as well as to target MEPs to apply tactical pressure.
The lists also track the status of communications between the tobacco giant’s lobbyists and politicians, noting for example, “Continuous informal Updates”, “ongoing contacts”, or open support as in the case of the Austrian MEP Othmar Karas: “Mr Karas plans to initiate a common breakfast with his Austrian MEP colleagues, PMG [Philip Morris Germany] & JTI [Japan Tobacco International] representatives, as well as Trierenberg [a cigarette tipping paper manufacturer] representatives on the topic of TPD [Tobacco Product Directive].” Mr Karas’ press officer commented that such a meeting never took place. The member of the European Peoples’ Party (EPP) group in the Parliament, the files show, maintains particularly close contacts with tobacco industry representatives. Mr Karas appears generally amenable to the lobbyists’ world, and is also a member of the think tank the ‘Kangaroo Group’,which is focused on the exchange between MEPs and lobbyists. Mr Karas holds a different view of this: “I talk with everybody, but I don’t let anybody impose anything on me.”
The leaked files also document how Philip Morris monitors not just friendly allies but potential enemies, for instance saying of one MEP: “Fervent opponent to tobacco industry – Necessity to monitor closely her potential anti-tobacco initiatives – do not want to meet the industry.” Though mostly focused on tobacco issues, many comments also focus on personal information about MEPs that might be useful when lobbying. One MEP is mentioned as being “keen on motorcycling”, another MEP, the files state, “is becoming rather impredictable [sic]”. It also mentions examples of MEPs who are said to have unfriendly relations.
Crucially, the files show just how comprehensive Philip Morris’ access to MEPs is.
Two large leaked documents
We are providing excel versions of a relevant sample of the leaked documents. This involved processing the PDFs with a special program. Therefore, in some cases characters could not be recognized, and these are marked with [Ill.] or [Illegible] within the spreadsheet cells.
You can download three Excel files, which represent the essence of the ‘MEPs Influenced’ document. The central file is ‘Friday List June 22nd’, which features all MEPs and their opinions on tobacco issues and if they have met Philipp Morris representatives. ‘ENVI MEPs’ is a list on most of the Full members of the ENVI committee including details on them. The ‘Country Documents’ file is a compiled version of all existing single country lists footnotes on the respective countries, in alphabetical order.
Note that these leaked documents do not contain lists of MEPs for all EU countries, nor are they up-to-date – most of the documents date from June 2012, some are from the end of 2011. Yet they are singular in the insights they lend us into the Brussels lobbying activities of Philip Morris. The leaks featured here consist of two big documents. The ‘MEPs Influenced’ document summarises the activities of the lobbyists and the opinions of the Members of the European (MEPs) Parliament on different tobacco regulation issues. It also includes more detailed reports on the MEPs of most of the European countries, including footnotes on each member. The other part of the leak is the ‘Strategy Document”, which we quote from further down. Altogether the documents seen by the author make up more than 400 pages.
The tobacco lobbyists use a colour scheme to show the opinions of all MEPs on six key issues. Green means positive for the tobacco industry, red means negative. The key issues are Generic Packaging [GP], Expanded Health Warnings [EHW], Ingredients Ban [IB], Point of Sales Display Ban [POSDB], New Generation Products [NGP] and Snus. The latter refers to tobacco taken directly into the mouth in small pouches, which is only legal in Sweden. Snus was the central issue in the Dalligate scandal, where Health Commissioner John Dalli was forced to resign over yet-to-be-clarified tobacco lobbyists’ contacts.
Full Data here: http://corporateeurope.org/sites/default/files/attachments/friday_sheet_june_22nd_b.xls
The Commission’s TPD proposal
In February 2009 the European Commission announced that it wanted to revise the original Tobacco Product Directive of 2001. The Commission explained this revision saying there were new products not covered by the original Directive. Also, new scientific evidence suggested consumers might be misled by the tar and nicotine levels on cigarette packages. The main goal of the new rules was to reduce the number of young people who start smoking and develop a deadly addiction. The Commission faced heavy pressure from Philip Morris and other tobacco companies, which may have contributed to a weakening of the proposal for a revised Directive presented by the Commission in December 2012. The European Commission did not propose plain packaging, but argued for health warnings making up at least 75 per cent of the back and front of boxes (EHW), a ban on strong flavours such as Menthol (IB), banning cigarettes from the displays in shops (POSDB) and regulating e-cigarettes and other new products (NGP)1.
A synopsis of the different lists created for this article shows that Philip Morris International identified almost 130 MEPs that supported the company’s position on not expanding health warnings on the packaging. In contrast, slightly more than 40 MEPs were against the tobacco industry’s plans. Please keep in mind that this represents the state of play in mid 2012 – a lot of lobbying on both sides occurred thereafter – and that this is Philip Morris’ interpretation of the views of MEPs.
Philip Morris lists 160 MEPs as being opposed to plain packaging and 33 in favour of it. On the topic of banning certain ingredients, Philip Morris found 119 MEPs opposed, whereas 32 MEPs wanted stronger regulation.
According to the lists, just over 170 MEPs had an opinion on making tobacco products “under the counter” items (POSDB). This would mean showing tobacco products only if customers asked for them. The majority of the MEPs – 135 – opposed such a measure.
Beyond mapping the opinions of and gathering information on as many MEPs as possible, Philip Morris had a strong focus on addressing members in influential positions. These members sat on the two main committees which dealt with the Tobacco Directive. The core committee was the one on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI). The committees on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) and Legal Affairs (JURI) were also assessed and mapped in great detail.
Philip Morris documents its contact with all members of the ENVI committee in a separate file [ENVI MEPs], targeting the key players who could be amenable to their arguments. They also looked at which positions the committee members might have taken in the past. The members are prioritised into the groups “High”, “Medium” and “Low”. High usually means that a MEP is in a relevant committee or in another key position such as being the country delegation leader or strong player within the parliamentary group. Secondly, the label “High” means the MEP is open to the tobacco industry’s arguments. This tends to be the case more among members of EPP, ALDE and conservative groups. In some cases MEPs are also targeted as high if they take a dedicated anti-tobacco position. Members of Parliament which are in relevant committees but are not in key positions receive a “Medium”. At the time of the making of these documents (mid 2012), the lobbyists had met more than 30 of the 65 members of this committee.
We have compiled a list of the ten MEPs with the strongest relations to Philip Morris according to these lists. These parliamentarians are labelled as having “ongoing”, “regular” or “continuous” contact in the list or a history of several meetings with Philip Morris lobbyists. They are marked as “High” priority. All take pro-tobacco positions; seven of them are also marked blue for being targetable with industry arguments. PM’s further notes explain their role.
Top ten MEPs with the strongest relations to Philip Morris
The MEPs only responded to our queries in part. Interestingly, two mentioned that former employees of theirs were now working for Philip Morris. Othmar Karas replied that one of his former staff members was a Philip Morris employee, which might explain why the contact is labeled “regular”. Jens Rohde explained that he has “on-going contact with Anne Katrine Melvig due to the fact that she is a very good friend of mine and a former employee, who worked for me during the time I was a Member of the Danish Parliament”.
As a point of clarification Indrek Tarand answered that he was not a friend of Philip Morris even though being a smoker: “I am against big tobacco companies,” he said. In his case it is especially unclear how Philip Morris came to a conclusion about his positions on tobacco. It is possible that Philip Morris’ employees used the term “ongoing contact” in different ways depending on the country.
None of the MEPs were aware that Philip Morris was collecting information on them. It is unclear how PMI gathered information on the positions all the parliamentarians on the list held. In some cases no direct contact is mentioned, yet the MEP appears to be marked as positive on several issues. In some cases meetings might not have been necessary because the relationship was already very good, in others it still had to be strengthened.
One explanation could be that Philip Morris’ employees were keen on demonstrating their efforts and claimed having had a meeting when they might have just had a short encounter. After all, these lists may also function as an internal competition to show which division is doing the best lobbying job.
The lists also demonstrate an approach lobbyists choose if they cannot access politicians directly: they delegate the task to a third party. This is the case with the Swedish Green Party MEP Carl Schlyter, where Philip Morris comments: “Very interested in tobacco policy in general, not in technical details. So far not very open to meet with industry.” They then go on to say: “3rd party engagement planned” – meaning they will seek to approach this MEP through other means. This can be for example via a growers’ association, a trade unionist, a cornershop owner or the American Chamber of Commerce, as noted in several other cases: “AmCham to send position paper by IP [Intellectual Property] expert; IP expert to contact and directly engage with MEP.”
Many of the contacts are specified as “informal” in the spreadsheets. Such undisclosed meetings are clearly against Article 5.3 of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which calls for contacts between industry and lawmakers to be limited to the strictly necessary and these to be conducted in a completely transparent manner. The records of such interactions must be publicly available. As the overwhelming majority of MEPs do not presently adhere these requirements, Corporate Europe Observatory and a dozen other NGOs wrote to the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz in October 2013 to insist that transparency rules for contacts between MEPs and tobacco lobbyists should be established. Schulz argued that the WHO rules were not binding and that it was sufficient to rely on the “self-responsibility which comes with a free parliamentary mandate”. The Greens as well as individual MEPs from different political groups follow these guidelines in an exemplary way, but most MEPs’ relations with the tobacco lobby completely remain opaque.
Watering down through other committees
The ‘Strategy Document’ concerns the strategic and tactical considerations of Philip Morris. For example, the company tried to delay the revision process of the Tobacco Product Directive as much as possible. Philip Morris also tried to delegate the responsibility from the ENVI committee to other committees as well. They chose this option after reaching the following analysis:
We would be in a close situation within the ENVI committee but the Rapporteur and Shadows have pointed towards a hostile amendment situation where deep political posturing will occur. We are very heavily reliant on the EPP but with a breakdown looking only at Full members would be in a losing situation due to the alliance of the left of the House which combined to outweigh the EPP dominance.2
Philip Morris used delegating to other committees partly as a delaying tactic and partly in the hope other committees would be more sympathetic to the company’s point of view. The approach showed some success: Klaus-Heiner Lehne (EPP) became the rapporteur for the legal affairs committee (JURI) and appears to have been a high-priority target of Philip Morris, with regular contacts dating back until 2008. Lehne was well suited for this as a long-time member of the European Parliament with a wide contact network and was a partner in a law firm which happens to represent Japan Tobacco International. Lehne did not see a conflict of interest in this. In April 2013, Lehne delivered JURI’s opinion on the Tobacco Directive, suggesting a watered-down version with just 50 per cent of the package’s back and front containing warnings and cancelling the option of member states to introduce plain packaging. However, the final version of the Tobacco Product Directive still contains the member state option and reserves 65 per cent of the package’s back and front for warnings. Lehne has since left the European Parliament and become part of the EU’s Court of Auditors.
One more conclusion that appears from the documents is the strong imbalance in terms of human resources: just one tobacco company, Philip Morris, operated with a large number of staff – the list of consultants (‘New Transparency Register’) in the leaked document contains more than 160 persons, another one features almost 40 key staff members in charge of lobbying one or more countries. These activities are in strong contrast to Philip Morris’s officially declared number of lobbyists in the EU Transparency Register, which lists just seven names of PMI lobbyists. PMI, in its entry in the register, claims that the amount of time spent on lobbying by PMI employees equals nine full-time lobbyists. Corporate Europe Observatory last October filed a complaint against Philip Morris for under-reporting on its lobbying expenses and the number of lobbyists employed, but – disappointingly – the Transparency Register failed to seriously investigate the obvious mismatch between the information in the leaked documents and PMI’s entry in the register.3 This also highlights another failing of the Transparency Register, in that one cannot consult records for previous years.
Lessons from the TPD lobbying battle
The Tobacco Products Directive is now in force. Given that at some stages health professionals were afraid the Directive might not be passed before the EU elections or might even get killed off totally, this is good news. It demonstrates that even powerful lobbyists like the tobacco industry are not able to get all they want. Although the leak of the Philip Morris lobby strategy helped reinforce the resolve of MEPs opposed to big tobacco, we do not know how its lobbying may also have influenced the European Parliament to weaken the proposal drafted by the European Commission on several key points. The size of health warnings on the packaging was reduced; the proposed ban on misleading ‘slim’ cigarettes was cancelled, to mention just two examples. The final outcome is an improvement compared to the existing rules, but considering the deadly impacts of smoking much more could and should have been achieved.
Examining these documents clearly shows that the European Parliament needs to evaluate how to protect itself better from undue influence from the tobacco industry. The absence of rules or guidelines for MEPs made it very easy for Philip Morris and other tobacco companies to covertly lobby and influence MEPs. The UN rules state very clearly that contacts with lobbyists should be limited to a minimum and all meetings that happen must be documented and published. However the European Parliament has failed to take any collective measures towards implementing this. Presently, big companies such as Philip Morris can play out their lobbying power in terms of money and staff without citizens being able to find out. The leaked files also reveal that far too many MEPs are too close and too friendly with the tobacco industry. The lesson for the European Parliament elections is that Europe needs MEPs who can stand-up for the public interest, against the lobbying of the tobacco industry.
You can contact the author of this report here: Michael Hörz
2.Tobacco Products Directive by Philip Morris, p. 14
3. CEO filed a complaint with a detailed argumentation on October 8th 2013. We suggested the Transparency Register secretariat ask Philip Morris to show them the leaked files and offered to help the secretariat get access to the leaked documents in case PMI refused to do so, an offer that was not taken up. The secretariat met with PMI, but appears to have taken a very soft approach towards the tobacco giant. On 20 December PMI updated its entry in the Transparency Register without changing anything about the numbers of lobbyists or lobby expenses. Only the list of issues lobbied on was expanded.