The Commission did not screen Poppy Kalesi for conflicts of interest when she took up her post as “EU Regulatory Affairs Advisor” for a fossil fuels giant.
The European Commission's DG Energy told CEO that Poppy Kalesi “was employed as a contract agent from 01/06/2008 - 31/08/2010 and did not have access to sensitive documents/information during her assignment. Therefore, and according to the provisions in place (Article 21 of the Commission Decision on outside activities and assignments) she is/was not obliged to request the explicit authorisation of the Appointing Authority (AIPN) for her to be able to accept her current employment.”
Thus, despite working on the Strategic Energy Technologies (SET) plan and on controversial Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) at DG Energy for more than two years years, the loopholes in the staff regulations about non-permanent staff meant that Ms Kalesi faced no screening for potential conflicts of interest in her new job representing the interests one of the biggest oil and gas companies in the world.
According to Ms Kalesi's LinkedIn profile, after leaving the Commission in September 2010, the same month she joined Statoil's London office as “EU Regulatory Affairs Advisor,” a role which included “Communicating natural gas business strategy to regulators, politicians and civil servants”.
After performing this role for over two years, she became Statoil's Senior Consultant in Innovation Strategy in September 2012, a job which she still holds. This role, according to Ms Kalesi's LinkedIn profile, includes “Representing Statoil in the EU High Level Group for Innovation” and “Supporting new energy business units (CCS and enhance geothermal) in understanding their business needs and articulating innovation challenge”.
Statoil claims on its website's technology and innovation section, regarding CCS, that “Statoil has become a world-leader in its development and application.” CCS is an extremely controversial technology, being capital and energy intensive, unlikely to be 'commercially viable' for decades (and reliant on enormous public subsidies until then), and with enormous uncertainty about the future environmental effects from CO2 leakage.
Whilst at the Commission Ms Kalesi worked for over a year as a Programme Manager on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) in the Coal and Oil Unit, including managing the implementation and performance of one billion euros worth of EU sponsored CCS projects, and developing policy measures to provide further financing to CCS projects. Prior to this, she was for more than one year a Policy analyst on the Strategic Energy Tecnologies (SET-Plan), which also included CCS.
Before working at the Commission, Ms Kalesi worked as a Parliamentary Assistant to an Chris Davies MEP for three years, 2005 – 2008, where she “Developed proposal for a CCS financing mechanism under the New Entrants Reserve of the EU Emissions Trading System”. Interestingly, her move from DG Energy to Statoil was not her first trip through the revolving door, for prior to her work as an MEP Assistant, Ms Kalesi had been a lobbyist for public affairs firm Edelman, where her “Largest client assignments related to energy, environment and climate policy” and she provided “Strategic advice to a big European energy company on climate and energy policy issues”.
CEO contacted Ms Kalesi for comment, who stated that she believes “it becomes clear from my LinkedIn profile that the nature of my area of work in the Commission and that in Statoil is different. The overlap - in the larger scheme of things - is that they are both in the broader energy and climate policy area which... are pretty vast areas with a myriad of stakeholders.”
Ms Kalesi also noted that she “can’t imagine why a person who would run to share confidential information would have been employed by the Commission in the first place. I believe most Commission officials I have met have very high ethical standards and integrity and the same goes for most business people in my line of business.” Furthermore, Ms Kalesi cautioned against “more overtly prescriptive, stringent rules that may prevent conflict of interest but may also have the unintended consequence of stifling innovation and good service for citizens”. (Email to CEO, 30 July 2013 - see here for Ms Kalesi's whole response).
This approach is similar to thatoften taken bythe Commission; that Commission employees are, by default, ethical people who are somehowabove suspicion. The recurring lobby scandals in Brussels, not to mention the dozens of revolving door cases – and the unmitigated conflicts of interest they demonstrate - documented by CEO, show that this approach is however inadequate. A public body has a duty to ensure that the appropriate frameworks are in place to prevent actual or apparent conflicts of interest.The moral character of individuals is not in question. What is in question are the systems and frameworks that govern the too-close ties between those responsible for regulating business, and those businesses who do not want to be regulated.
* Background research by Manuel Melzer, ALTER-EU trainee April 2013.
Update 18 August 2015: According to her LinkedIn profile, Kalesi left Statoil in 2014. She is now an advisor to the director of research and innovation, and an energy project consultant at the University of Stavanger. She also says that she will be starting her own company on sustainability and innovation.
Update 18 November 2015: 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.
"Poppy Kalesi's trip through the revolving door from working on fossil fuels for the European Commission to becoming ''EU regulatory affairs advisor” to Norwegian oil giant Statoil, is the kind of revolving door job move that should clearly be screened for risk of conflicts of interest, regardless of the fact that Ms Kalesi was not on a permanent contract.
CEO believes that in order to avoid the risk, perception or actuality of conflicts of interest, the loopholes for contract agents must be closed. When it comes to moving to a lobby job on the same policy area, contract staff should also be screened for conflicts of interest, with restrictions imposed where appropriate. Non-permanent contract staff who have worked at the Commission for two or more years, should face the same two year cooling off period on industry lobby jobs that we advocate for public officials in general."