The European Commission has told us that:
“Ms Tomczak submitted a declaration of interest form as required by the standard Commission procedure before recruiting any new staff member … To prevent Ms Tomczak from being in a position of conflict of interest proportionate, measures were taken to mitigate any effects of a potential conflict of interest as follows: For a period of 6 months after entry into service Ms Tomczak was not to be involved in any meeting with members of the World Coal Association or industry representatives from the coal sector without the prior agreement of her Head of Unit. In case of an authorisation to participate in such meetings she was always to be accompanied by another colleague from the Commission. During that same period, Ms Tomczak was not to be involved in files concerning decisions related to individual coal companies or national coal sectors.”
But CEO considers that these restrictions on how Ms Tomczak can meet with the coal industry and on the dossiers she can be involved in, are practically meaningless. There is no ban on lobby meetings with the coal industry and the period of time for the restrictions is far too short. Banning her from involvement in decisions on individual coal companies and national coal sectors for a few months also misses the point, and does nothing to tackle the fundamental conflict of interest which remains.
We note that Article 11 of the Staff Regulations says:
“An official shall carry out his duties and conduct himself solely with the interests of the Union in mind. He shall neither seek nor take instructions from any government, authority, organisation or person outside his institution. He shall carry out the duties assigned to him objectively, impartially and in keeping with his duty of loyalty to the Union.”
In CEO's view, the Commission has jeopardised this article by appointing a coal industry advocate into an EU coal policy-making role. CEO has complained to the Commission about this case. The response can be read here and it is analysed below.
In June 2010, Aleksandra Tomczak joined the World Coal Association (WCA); the WCA is the global lobby association for the coal industry, based in London, and is at the heart of efforts to re-brand this dirty fossil fuel via so-called clean-coal technology, and disingenuously promote coal as an energy source that will alleviate poverty. WCA's members include Peabody, Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Glencore, Anglo American and many others.
Tomczak worked at the WCA first as a European specialist and later as policy manager; in that latter role, according to her LinkedIn profile she:
- managed WCA’s work on energy, environment and maritime trade policies and regulations
- formulated and implemented public policy engagement programmes
- monitored and analysed policies in the area of energy, environment, climate and maritime transport
- advised the chief executives of major international mining companies on policy and regulatory developments.
During her time at the WCA, Tomczak was prominent in the debate about the future of coal. Her publicly-available articles present a biased and one-sided view of coal, perhaps not surprisingly considering her day job. She repeatedly presents coal as a solution to energy/fuel poverty and dismisses concerns about its emissions by talking up the possibility of carbon capture and storage (CCS). However, CCS technology is highly controversial, at best a risky, costly and far-off technology to bury power plant’s CO2 emissions, which keeps us hooked on fossil fuels and fails to cut emissions now. Even its proponents admit the technology won't be commercially viable before 2030, even with colossal injections of public funding ie. public money for tacking climate change being handed to the very industry which has profited from causing the problem! Yet the coal industry promotes CCS as a way to make the case for building new coal-fired plants.
Whilst at WCA, in November 2014 Tomczak wrote
“... it is clearly in the interest of European citizens and businesses to keep coal as part of the EU’s energy mix...”.
In another article, she criticised new EU legislation targeting smaller combustion plants and defining emission limits per member state which she indicates could be “problematic”. In January 2015 Tomczak wrote about
“2015 [being] a key year for the international coal industry and a year that should see renewed efforts to make a strong case for coal as a sustainable energy fuel and for cleaner coal technologies as an irreplaceable element of any effective global climate mitigation strategy.”
The coal industry must have been delighted therefore when, shortly after writing this article, Tomczak went through the revolving door to become Policy coordinator for EU Coal in DG Energy.
According to her LinkedIn profile Tomczak's new tasks are to:
- participate in continued development of policy instruments and measures relating to proper implementation of existing EU policies for coal and oil production and use
- prepare and draft briefings, speeches [sic] and speaking notes on the specific policy domain and issues relating to coal production and use
- monitor, analyse and report on the situation in the coal sector and developments affecting it
- represent the Directorate General on Energy in external meetings
- contribute to internal communications and knowledge sharing
Coal and the EU
In the EU, coal represents a quarter of all electricity production and is considered an important energy source for industrial processes. However, coal is responsible for huge greenhouse gas emissions (nearly 20% of EU total emissions) and for harmful air pollution (causing over 18,000 premature deaths in the EU every year). Despite its deadly impacts for people and for planet, a combination of economic factors, including rising gas prices, lower coal prices and a low CO2 (carbon dioxide) price caused by weak EU climate policy have all contributed to an increase in electricity generated from coal since 2009-10.
While some existing coal plants are expected to close in the coming years as their pollution levels exceed those allowed by the EU’s Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD) and the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED), a majority of plants are expected to remain operational, unless the EU’s energy, climate and air pollution policy frameworks are strengthened to reduce the use of coal plants. But this is an unlikely prospect as the EU flagship policy on climate change, the Emissions Trading System (ETS), is preventing those other policies from being strengthened, while keeping coal 'competitive'.
Unsurprisingly, the coal industry's main priorities are to defend its operations, obtain financial support for coal power plants, and to undermine any policies that would change the status quo. The industry is lobbying against any strengthening of the ETS which could increase the cost of electricity from coal, and against the proposed CO2 Emission Performance Standard for power plants which is supposed to reduce emissions from coal power. And as a result of coal industry lobbying, the EU will soon lag behind the US in terms of efforts too reduce CO2 and air pollution from the coal industry.
For climate change activists, coal is a fossil fuel without a future. At a time when serious action to stop runaway climate change is needed immediately and within the next 10 years, the arguments of the coal lobby only offer to lock in more fossil fuel use and divert funding away from sorely needed investments in renewables and other real solutions to the climate crisis. You can read WWF's new briefing exposing the coal industry's myths here.
Coal industry lobbying
The World Coal Association is not registered in the EU lobby transparency register. However, this does not mean that it is absent from EU policy debates. The website integritywatch.eu indicates that on 17 February 2015, it held a meeting, alongside lobby firm Hume Brophy, with Maria Da Graca Carvalho, a member of Research commissioner Carlos Moedas' cabinet. This meeting appears to be in breach of the Commission's rules that Cabinet members should not meet with unregistered lobby groups. The lobby firm Hume Brophy does not record WCA as a client in its lobby register entry but it is believed that it operates on WCA's behalf, at least in some capacity. Hume Brophy does represent Peabody Energy which describes itself as “the world’s largest private-sector coal company”.
The WCA organised an event in Brussels on 17 November 2015 entitled “A pathway to cleaner, low emission coal use” which featured an MEP and the Head of Unit, Renewable Energy and CCS Policy from the Commission. Numerous representatives from the coal industry were due to speak. The event was organised by the WCA, alongside Hume Brophy and Euracoal. Euracoal is the European Association for Coal and Lignite which leads on EU-level lobbying for the industry, upon which it spends €200,000-€299,999 a year. Euracoal met Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, commissioner for the Energy Union, in January 2015.
CEO contacted Ms Tomczak before publishing this profile, but we received no reply.
You can also read about 16 other energy/ climate/ environment-related revolving door stories in our November 2015 report: Brussels, big energy, and revolving doors: a hothouse for climate change.
Update 19 January 2016
The Commission has now told CEO that during the first six months of her employment at the Commission, when restrictions were in place, Ms Tomczak "attended meetings in the presence of other Commission officials" which "primarily concerned the preparation of the European Commission – EURACOAL Dialogue which took place on 7th of July", as well as a meeting with the representatives of Carbunion on the situation of the Spanish coal industry. Since then, Ms Tomczak has held three meetings with the coal industry: on 28/10/2015 with Polish Electricity Association (PKEE), to discuss PKEE's position paper on LCP BREF, on 5/11/2015 with RWE, regarding their views on the German Government regulations on coal-fired power plants as announced by the German Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy, and on 3/12/2015 with DTEK, Ukrainian coal producing company, in the presence of Commission hierarchy. According to the Commission, there were no notes, minutes or any follow-up documents from any of these meetings.
Update 26 April 2016
The Commission has now replied to our complaint about this revolving door case. The response is deeply disappointing as it refuses to recognise the fundamental problem of employing an ex-coal industry employee in a key EU coal policy position. The Commission says that the case has been "adequately handled according to the rules in force". In that case, the rules must reasonably be described as inadequate.
“It is a scandal of astonishing scale that someone who was responsible for green-washing the image of coal on behalf of the industry is now responsible for coal policy coordination in the European Commission. Limiting how this official can meet with the coal industry, or banning her from involvement in certain decisions, for six months does nothing to tackle the fundamental conflict of interest which remains. The Commission has a clear responsibility not to appoint officials to policy-making roles where there is any risk to the need to be objective and impartial; this case is another example of how the Commission's on-paper rules to tackle conflicts of interest fail to make any difference in practice. At a time when coal use in Europe should be being very rapidly phased out, a recent coal industry insider and advocate should absolutely not be coordinating EU coal policy.”