Following his move from ExxonMobil to DG Energy, Marcus Lippold was a senior energy economist working on several directives (the emissions' trading scheme's cap and trade, renewable energy directive, fuels quality directive, energy taxation directive etc), according to his LinkedIn profile. He then became a DG Energy advisor on EU international energy relations where he coordinated bilateral oil dialogues and cooperation with OPEC and had a “special focus on energy dialogue” with the OPEC Secretariat.
In August 2013 Lippold went on sabbatical from the Commission and became Vice President for business strategy and corporate affairs (responsible for the group upstream/ midstream/ downstream strategic projects and the management of governmental and international institutional relations) at MOL Group. MOL Group describes itself as a leading oil and gas corporation based in central and eastern Europe. It says it has operations in over 40 countries and it is owned by a variety of interests: the Hungarian state, ING bank, CEZ (the Czech electricity group) and OmanOil all have shareholdings.
MOL is in the EU lobby register and it says it is active in “all files related to energy, climate, environment, taxation, transport, competition, company law”. It records six full-time lobbyists and a 2013 lobby expenditure of €300,000-€399,999. According to intergritywatch.eu, in May 2015 MOL group met with Bernd Biervert (the Deputy Head of cabinet of Maroš Šefčovič, the commissioner responsible for the Energy Union) to present the company's activities in Central and Eastern Europe.
MOL group is a member of major energy industry lobby groups who are active at the EU level: FuelsEurope, the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers (IOGP), the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC), the European Petroleum Refiners Association, and the European Round Table of Industrialists. MOL is also a client of the lobby consultancy firm FIPRA.
Lippold will have had contact with MOL group during his time at the Commission. In 2011, he moderated a speakers' panel at the European Fuels Conference which included a speaker from MOL. And now we know that Lippold has had contact with the Commission on behalf of MOL since he went on sabbatical, in correspondence that should be defined as 'lobbying'. In December 2013, Lippold wrote to an official in DG Energy about the implementation of the oil stocks directive (which places requirements on member states to maintain a certain level of oil reserves) in Poland. The official replies that “the Commission does not assess and discuss national draft legislations”. However, once the Polish authorities finalise the legislation, the Commission will carry out a “conformity check” and the official says that it will “keep your remarks in mind”.
In June 2014, Lippold, again on behalf of MOL, wrote again to DG Energy, this time to a head of unit, regarding the implementation of the same directive in Romania. It contains criticism of the Romanian government's implementation of the directive and the “large financial burdens for fuel suppliers” which have apparently resulted. Lippold sets out MOL's position at length and then asks for the Commission’s understanding of how the directive should be implemented (delegated) at the national level, which is duly provided.
In December 2013, MOL launched a case against the Croatian government at the international arbitration court, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). Even though he only joined MOL in August 2013, it seems inconceivable that Lippold in his role as Vice President for business strategy and corporate affairs (which included the management of governmental and international institutional relations), did not play some part in this process.
Lippold has now left MOL and in a further, shocking sabbatical joined Saudi Aramco where he has been responsible for regional corporate planning and policy in Europe and Russia since April 2015. Saudi Aramco is the world's biggest oil and gas company and the state-owned oil company of Saudi Arabia with interests in petroleum and chemicals. Saudi Arabia has a destructive track-record at UN climate talks, currently arguing to water-down an agreement at the climate talks to be held in Paris in December 2015. The company says that it maintains the world’s largest spare crude oil production capacity, equating to one in every eight barrels produced.
Aramco's board comprises figures from the Saudi regime as well as Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, former chairman of Shell; Peter Woicke, former Managing Director of the World Bank; and Andrew Gould, chairman of the BG Group plc. Aramco is not in the EU lobby register. (You can read CEO's exposé of EU lobby firms who act for repressive regimes, including some members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, here.) In October 2015, Saudi Aramco joined with other Big Energy corporations to call for “an effective climate change agreement at COP21”. However, a look behind the rhetoric shows that in fact it represents a self-interested call for more emphasis on gas and projects on carbon capture and storage.
The Commission's sabbatical rules
In January 2014, new revolving door rules for EU officials came into force. For the first time, those on sabbatical were forbidden from “engaging in an occupational activity, whether gainful or not, which involves lobbying or advocacy vis-à-vis his institution and which could lead to the existence or possibility of a conflict with the legitimate interests of the institution” (see article 40). And yet, Lippold, on sabbatical, has apparently been able to lobby former DG on behalf of private (MOL) interests. Either way, the Commission's willingness to authorise this sabbatical, albeit under “certain limited conditions”, indicates how blinkered its approach to conflicts of interest and corporate capture really is.
Lippold did not respond to efforts to contact him via Saudi Aramco. Lippold's sabbatical placements with Saudi Aramco and MOL group are part of his career pattern. Before he joined the Commission in 2008, he had had a long employment history with ExxonMobil which he has documented on his LinkedIn profile and which we have previously assessed on RevolvingDoorWatch. ExxonMobil's climate track record is appalling, considering its consistent attacks on climate science, its funding of climate denial (despite it's own scientists warning of risks of climate change since 1970s) and its lobbying to block effective action.
You can also read about 15 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 3 December 2015: CEO has now complained to the Commission about this case.
Update 26 April 2016: In its response to our complaint, the Commission provides astonishing argumentation to justify its decisions to allow Lippold's sabbaticals. Apparently, the letters sent by Lippold to the Commission while he was at MOL group "did not aim at influencing the European legislation or its activities" even though at one point, a Commission official tells him it will “keep your remarks in mind”. Meanwhile the Commission labels Lippold a "junior administrator" while we were previously told he was an "International Relations Officer" which sounds rather more important. Lippold himself referred to his most recent Commission role as "Advisor – EU International energy relations" where he coordinated bilateral oil dialogues and cooperation with OPEC and had a “special focus on energy dialogue” with the OPEC Secretariat. This does not sound very 'junior' either. The Commission implies that we wish to deny Lippold the right to work. We do not, but we do think that he should not be employed in roles where there is a conflict of interest. Finally the Commission says: "It would not be proportionate to prohibit a person from working within a company which is not declared illegal, which pursues legal aims and in addition accepts to abide by the EU transparency register principles and code of conduct." Aside from the fact that Saudi Aramco is not in the EU lobby register, these criteria are not sufficient when thinking about conflicts of interest. It is highly disappointing that the Commission uses the letter to defend its decisions rather than seriously investigating the important issues raised.
"In our view, the Commission has taken a totally irresponsible approach to the risk of conflicts of interest during Lippold's coming and goings through the revolving door. The fact that a Commission official working on energy policy can leave one day and then start to work for a major EU energy company the next day beggars belief. That he can then go to work for the biggest oil company in the world, while maintaining a 'right to return' to the Commission, shows how far the EU executive will go to accommodate the demands of Big Energy."