Brussels, 28 April 2013 – Whatever emerges as the real reason for Mr. Dalli’s resignation, the Dalli case shows that the Commission urgently needs more rigorous transparency and ethics rules to avoid undue influence. Instead of the current vaguely-worded Code of Conduct and Staff Regulation, the Commission needs clear rules around its contacts with lobbyists, for instance on matters like meetings set up by acquaintances acting as lobby consultants. There is also a need for stricter and mandatory ethics rules for lobbyists, replacing those laid out in the code of conduct connected to the voluntary Transparency Register.
The Commission has repeatedly rejected calls from MEPs, media and NGOs to answer key questions around the Dalli case. The Commission, moreover, has rejected calls to initiate an overhaul of its current transparency and ethics rules. There is growing discontent with the Commission’s handling of the case, including its refusal to answer key questions about what happened in the scandal.
On the 6th December 2012, ALTER-EU received a very disappointing response to a letter sent to Commission President Barroso with proposals for improved transparency and ethics rules. The Commission’s response and ALTER-EU’s letter is online here. A fragment from the letter says:
“The Commission does not make a point of commenting on rumours which appear in the media and has already clearly stated that Mr Dalli decided to resign because it had become politically untenable for him to continue in office. Your allegations of lack of transparency on the part of the Commission are not founded as it appears from the fact that a large set of documents related to this issue have actually been released by the Commission under regulation 1049/2002, including four requests introduced by members of Alter EU.
As the Commission has already explained, in particular to the European Parliament, the European Anti-Fraud Office’s report has been transmitted to the Maltese Authorities and is now part of judicial proceedings in Malta. It is covered by the rules regarding secrecy of investigations and it cannot be released without the prior consent of the Maltese authorities.”
However, this report has now been leaked by a Maltese newspaper and is available here.
The Dalligate scandal began with a complaint from Swedish Match to the European Commission, alleging that Silvio Zammit, a Maltese acquaintance of Dalli, offered to arrange meetings with him, leading to a reversal of the EU ban on snus, in return for €60 million. A Maltese court case against Zammit is ongoing, but regardless of the outcome, it is already clear from Swedish Match’s statements and interaction with the European Parliament, that Swedish Match engaged in inappropriate lobbying behaviour.
Swedish Match sought access to persons with private contacts with Dalli, to get better access to him and influence over his decisions. After failing to achieve their lobbying goals via appropriate procedures in Brussels (e.g. responding to Commission public consultations, meeting officials, including in Dalli’s cabinet), Swedish Match sent a representative, Johan Gabrielsson, to Malta to facilitate contacts with friends and acquaintances of the Commissioner, and ultimately with Dalli himself. Infringing on the personal sphere of a Commissioner in this way, in pursuit of lobbying goals, is, ALTER-EU believes, inappropriate behaviour in the context of lobbying.
After the investigation has been leaked, it´s now more complicated for the Commission to keep on claiming that there is no such a thing as “lack of transparency” on their side in this “case”. According to Regulation 1049/2001 it is citizens´ right to know and have access to the Commission´s documents even when a court case is in process. If the document is not released the Commission has to explain in detail why it is so and the Commission should always try to release at least some parts of the document. With no doubt this is a case of highly public interest and this should stay over the Commission’s different allegations.
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