European Commission's “Petite problem” investigated

Ombudsman investigates big tobacco lobbyist on EU Ethics Panel

Press release from LobbyControl, Corporate Accountability International and Corporate Europe Observatory

Brussels / Köln, 19th March 2013

The European Ombudsman is now investigating the European Commission's reappointment of a high-profile revolving door case, Michel Petite, the former head of the Commission's Legal Service-turned-lawyer for Big Tobacco, to the ad hoc ethical committee, which advises on Commissioners going through the revolving door1. This follows a complaint made by Lobby Control, Corporate Accountability International and Corporate Europe Observatory in February.

The Ombudsman has asked Commission President Barroso to respond to allegations that Michel Petite's reappointment breaks rules about independence and the requirement for an impeccable professional record. The Commission President has until June 31, 2013, to submit an opinion on the case.

The investigation will consider the core concern that when it comes to an ethical advisory body, whose integrity and transparency are paramount to public trust in the Commission, it is the appearance of conflicts of interest that is particularly important.

The astounding decision of the Commission to reinstate Michel Petite - in December 2012 - followed revelations, in the wake of the Dalli cash-for-influence tobacco lobbying scandal, that Petite had been meeting with former colleagues in the Legal Service to present views on contested tobacco legislation, whilst having tobacco giant Phillip Morris as a client2.

Nina Katzemich, campaigner at LobbyControl, says “Michel Petite's independence and credibility to assess potential conflicts of interest is called into question by his own trip through the revolving door, now representing the interests of big corporate clients to his former Commission colleagues. It is also clear that working for a law firm that offers lobbying services but shuns the Transparency Register disqualifies him from having an 'impeccable record of professional behaviour. The re-appointment of Mr. Petite has seriously damaged the credibility of the Commission’s ethics policies.'”

The law firm where Michel Petite works, Clifford Chance, has refused to sign the EU's voluntary lobby register, despite clearly offering lobbying services to corporate clients. Clifford Chance's 'political advocacy strategy' webpage offers clients assistance in “shaping law and policy as it evolves.”3

John Stewart, campaigner at Corporate Accountability International, says “Re-appointing a former lawyer and lobbyist for one of the deadliest and most unethical industries on the planet to an ethics panel is reckless and dangerous. Given the tobacco industry's long history of using revolving doors to interfere in public health policymaking, his re-appointment would be a clear conflict of interest and would undermine the EU's integrity.”

The Ombudsman's investigation will decide if the Commission must revoke Michel Petite's reappointment. It may also advise the Commission on proactive transparency around the ad hoc ethical committee, for example, publishing its members' CVs and declarations of interest online, as well as consider longer-term recommendations for improvement.

You can find the full complaint online here:

This article continues after the banner

Subscribe to our newsletter