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Commission still hiding details of dealings with tobacco industry: the Ombudsman

The European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, strongly regrets that the European Commission has chosen not to make its dealings with the tobacco industry more transparent in line with UN guidelines.

The Commission was responding to the Ombudsman’s recommendation to extend the transparency policy of DG Health to all DGs through proactive online publication of all meetings of all Commission staff with tobacco lobbyists.

Heavy suspicions have always been hanging above the Barroso Commission. As the Green/Ecolo Belgian MEP Bart Staes told New Europe, “in 2010, the secretary general of the Commission Cathrine Day met at least three times with representatives from the big tobacco companies Philip Morris and Swedish Match /…/ The same companies and representatives of tobacco lobbies held three other meetings with Barroso‘s personal cabinet.”

The tobacco industry actively lobbies even today across multiple DGs in order to advance its commercial interests.

The Commission, in its opinion on the Ombudsman’s recommendation, still says it meets its obligations under the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

However the WHO guidelines clearly state that ‘all branches of government’ come within the scope of the FCTC.

Emily O’Reilly stated: “I appreciate the significant work that the Juncker Commission has done to improve lobbying transparency, and its intentions to make further improvements.

“However this is a missed opportunity by the Juncker Commission to show global leadership in the vital area of tobacco lobbying. The Prodi Commission took a lead role in the development of this important UN Convention.

“Maintaining the status quo effectively means that future meetings of Commission officials with tobacco lobbyists may create distrust. It appears that the sophistication of global lobbying efforts by big tobacco continues to be underestimated.”

The complaint was brought by an NGO which claimed the Commission was not meeting its obligations under the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The Ombudsman agreed, finding that the Commission’s approach to publicising meetings with tobacco lobbyists was, with the exception of DG Health, inadequate, unreliable and unsatisfactory. The Ombudsman was also concerned to find that certain meetings with lawyers representing the tobacco industry were not considered as meetings for the purpose of lobbying.

In her recommendation published in October 2015, the Ombudsman called on the Commission proactively to publish online all meetings with tobacco lobbyists, or their legal representatives, as well as the minutes of those meetings.

Transparency remains a permanent problem for the Commission’s dealings with the tobacco industry, and in the previous Commission Jose Manuel Barroso himself was accused by MEPs of playing for the tobacco lobby.

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