"The activity of being legal counsel can be authorised. You are not authorised to intervene in any affair or dossier for which the Legal Service had connection during the time that you were exercising your functions of Director-General. You will also abstain from having any professional contact with former colleagues. The period is fixed for one year".
Michel Petite is a former legal adviser to three Commission Presidents: Jacques Delors, Romano Prodi (as head of cabinet), and José Manuel Barroso.
In 2008, the Worst EU Lobby Awards (run by Friends of the Earth Europe, LobbyControl, Spinwatch and CEO) to highlight excessive corporate influence in Brussels) nominated Michel Petite for the conflicts of interest provoked by his move through the revolving door to lobbying law firm Clifford Chance.
In 2009, Petite was appointed by the Commission to sit on its ad hoc ethical committee which assesses the revolving door moves of former commissioners. In December 2012, he was reappointed to this committee.
More information is available in the ALTER-EU report: Block the revolving door - why we need to stop EU officials becoming lobbyists: http://www.alter-eu.org/revolving-doors
Michel Petite's role in the Dalligate lobby scandal
Five years after his initial revolving door move, Michel Petite emerged as an important player in the Dalligate affair. Dalligate saw the Health Commissioner John Dalli forced to resign under contested circumstances in October 2012, following an alleged cash-for-access lobby scandal involving tobacco firm Swedish Match.
Petite's role came about when he established contact with Catherine Day, Secretary General of the European Commission, on behalf of Swedish Match (the tobacco industry company at the heart of the Dalligate scandal which was also a client of Clifford Chance) after the firm approached him to receive advice about how to contact the Commission to make a complaint.
You can read more about Dalligate here.
NGO complaint to Ombudsman about Petite's reappointment to Commission's ethics committee
In 2013, Corporate Europe Observatory, LobbyControl and Corporate Accountability International filed several complaints with the European Commission and the European Ombudsman about the Commission's decision to re-appoint Michel Petite to the ethics committee in December 2012. The groups were concerned that:
- Michel Petite works for a law firm, Clifford Chance that, while advertising lobbying services, has not signed up to the EU's Transparency Register. Petite himself specialises in European Commission policies, government relations and public policy – otherwise known as lobbying services.
- Petite himself met with his former colleagues in the Commission's Legal Service in September 2011 and in September 2012, whilst having tobacco giant Philip Morris International as a client of Clifford Chance. At these meetings, Petite presented views on tobacco legislation.
- Petite represented Philip Morris Norway in 2011 before the Court of Justice of the European Free Trade Association. But in 2004, when working at the Commission, he signed the Anti-Contraband and Anti-Counterfeit Agreement with Philip Morris International, on behalf of the European Community. This adds to adds to the controversy around Petite's double role with the Commission and the tobacco industry.
- Petite established contact with Catherine Day, Secretary General of the European Commission, on behalf of Swedish Match after the firm (a client of Clifford Chance) approached him to receive advice about how to contact the Commission to make a complaint.
In November 2013, as part of her inquiry into our complaint, the Ombudsman wrote to Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič on 26 November saying “my view is that the Commission should revoke its decision to re-appoint [Petite] and should appoint another person instead". Finally, on Wednesday 18 December, the Commission announced that Michel Petite had been replaced on the ethical committee, knowing that a critical Ombudsman ruling was on the way.
Speaking on behalf of Corporate Europe Observatory about the replacement of Petite, Olivier Hoedeman said:
“We really welcome the European Ombudsman's actions in response to our complaint. She was right to suggest to the Commission that it should revoke its appointment of Michel Petite to the ad hoc ethical committee and we are pleased that the Commission has finally taken action, although that action comes far too late. In one particular aspect of the case, the Ombudsman says that the Commission's view was both “inconceivable and naïve”. This is a real rebuke to President Barroso and Secretary-General Catherine Day who repeatedly defended the re-appointment of Michel Petite in the face of substantive concerns from NGOs and MEPs. The Ombudsman makes important comments about the Commission's failure to act against conflicts of interest and we consider that these should have a wider application across the Commission. We hope that the Commission will instigate a review into how it handles conflicts of interest, to take account of this important ruling.”
The full ruling from the European Ombudsman can be read here.
"In our view, asking a controversial revolving door-er and lobbyist such as Michel Petite to advise on commissioners' proposed revolving door moves, was a bit like asking a smoker to advise on anti-smoking rules and it made a mockery of the whole process. It is good news that Petite has now left the ethics panel, but more changes are required to that body if it is to be fit for purpose to assess commissioners' new jobs in 2014 when they leave office."
"As for Petite's own spin through the revolving door, a two year cooling off period or ban on Petite joining Clifford Chance would have been far more effective in reducing the risk of conflicts of interest. This is especially considering that at Clifford Chance, Petite works on antitrust, competition, trade, litigation and dispute resolution issues, as well as specialising in government relations and public policy (activities that appear to be in the area of lobbying, as defined by the EU's lobby transparency register)."