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NGOs tell Barroso to remove tobacco lobbyist from ethics commission

Philip Morris lobbyist reappointed to committee that should regulate lobbies and revolving doors policy for commissioners.

European transparency groups Corporate European Observatory, Lobby Control, and Corporate Accountability International, have lodged a complaint with the European Commission, over the reappointment of a tobacco lobbyist to the Commission’s own ethical committee.

Former EC head of legal services Michel Petite was reappointed in December 2012 to a three-man ethical committee that is supposed to regulate lobbies and their influence in Brussels. But Petite himself works as a lawyer for the firm Clifford Chance, and represents tobacco giant Philip Morris.

The reappointment, just two months after Maltese commissioner John Dalli was asked to step down over claims that he was aware of a bribe to influence tobacco laws he was spearheading, has raised the ire of transparency campaigners in Brussels, who believe Petite has a conflict of interest.

CEO has told European Commission president José Barroso that article 4 of the 2003 Commission decision on establishing the ethical committee states that the appointment of a member requires their “independence, an impeccable record of professional behaviour as well as sound knowledge of the existing legal framework and working methods of the Commission.”

“We believe that the questions raised about the independence of Mr Petite mean he is not a suitable person to hold this position,” CEO said in their complaint.

Petite headed the Commission’s Legal Service from 2001 to the end of 2007 and then went through the revolving door to private law firm Clifford Chance, a firm that also offers lobbying services.

“In the Commission’s December 2012 response to European Parliament’s questions about the circumstances leading to the resignation of Commissioner Dalli, it became clear that tobacco giant Philip Morris International is a client of Clifford Chance, and that as a Clifford Chance lawyer Mr Petite presented views on tobacco legislation at meetings with Legal Service officials…

“It is clear that setting out views on tobacco legislation, whilst working for a tobacco firm, to former colleagues in a Commission department falls under the definition of lobbying – or ‘interest representation’ – that applies to the Commission’s Transparency Register.”

CEO believes that Petite’s role representing Philip Morris International raises doubts about his independence and his ability to rigorously assess potential conflicts of interest, and judge whether ex-Commissioners moving into private sector lobby jobs are appropriate or not.

“We do not believe that a former Commission official who himself went through the revolving door to a law firm that offers lobbying services, represents a tobacco industry client and refuses to sign up to the Transparency Register, is the most credible advisor to the Commission on revolving door cases.”

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