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Serge Abou

Former employer: 
DG External Relations (now European External Action Service)
Former function: 
EU Ambassador to China
New function: 
Adviser
New employer: 
Huawei
Nationality: 
France
Policy area: 
Date of Revolving Door: 
July, 2013
Institutional reaction: 

The Commission has told CEO that: "Mr Abou has informed the Commission in accordance with Article 16 of the Staff Regulations of his intention to exercise an occupational activity at Huawei's. To this, the Commission replied negatively for the period until the end of 2012 at which date the two years period foreseen in Article 16 of the Staff Regulation has ended. The Commission has also imposed precautionary restrictions for the period after 2012."

Abou was also told “to refrain from engaging in any lobbying activity in relation to the Commission” and “not to represent Huawei in contacts with the Commission.” Despite the Commission's ultimate approval of this role, the Director General for Trade Jean-Luc Demarty apparently wrote in internal correspondence on 26 July 2012 that he had “continuing doubts about the suitability of this approval”. Source: Der Spiegel

Other info: 

Abou worked for the EU for three decades, including stints as director-general for External Relations and director for Trade Defence Policy.

In 2012, Huawei (a Chinese telecommunications company, with an office in Brussels) was the eighth largest spender on lobbying in the EU with spending of €3 million. It hires a number of lobby firms to work on its behalf in Brussels. These are: APCO (€50,000-100,000 turnover from Huawei), Aspect (under €50,000), Fleishman Hillard (€50,000-100,000), ISC Intelligence in Science (under €50,000) and The Skill Set (€50,000-100,000).

In May 2013, the EU's Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht launched an “in principle” investigation into anti-competitive behaviour by Huawei and other Chinese companies. “Huawei and ZTE are dumping their products on the European market,” De Gucht said at the time. According to DG Trade, China exports telecommunication network equipment to the EU market with a value of approximately just over one billion euros per year.

The head of Huawei's Brussels office Leo Sun told Der Spiegel that Abou provides Huawei with “general strategic advice on global economical and political affairs” and that he adheres strictly to European Commission rules. The South China Morning Post contacted Mr Abou for comment; he declined.

For more information, see Der Spiegel and the South China Morning Post.

Update: In January 2014, the European Commisison told CEO that Abou "has withdrawn from his functions with the private firm". (Source: letter from European Commisison to CEO dated 29 January 2014)

Comment from CEO: 

"This is the first time (that we know of) where a specific official has been given a cooling-off period, or ban, by the Commission, from taking up a new position. It is welcome that the Commission applied a cooling-off period in this very serious revolving door case but the question is, has it been enough? Huawei's substantial lobby activity in the EU suggests that Abou continues to be an attractive recruit for them, even two years after his departure. The Commission has banned Abou from lobbying the Commission on behalf of Huawei, yet CEO considers that this will not entirely rule out the risk of conflicts of interest in this case. Huawei can still benefit from Abou's insider know-how and for such a senior official, CEO considers that a permanent ban would have been appropriate.”

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