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Health Commissioner resigns over influence peddling

(BRUSSELS2) It is a simple press release sent by espresso to all the journalists who have just announced it. John Dalli, the Maltese member of the European Commission responsible for health and consumer protection, has decided to pack up and return home. A resignation which is not entirely voluntary… It follows a case of influence peddling on tobacco legislation. And to an OLAF investigation, carried out very discreetly. This is the first resignation of a commissioner for influence peddling since the resignation of the Santer Commission. And we can say that this is the application of the “Cresson jurisprudence”. However, it comes at a time that is not easy for the European Commission, which has to face repeated accusations of conflicts of interest in some of its agencies, notably EFSA (the European Food Health Agency) or the European Medicines Agency.

An OLAF investigation

This resignation follows a complaint filed with OLAF, the Anti-Fraud Office, in May 2012 by the tobacco producer, Swedish Match, said the European Commission. This company argued that a Maltese entrepreneur had used his contacts with Mr Dalli to attempt to obtain financial advantages from the company in return for seeking to influence a future legislative proposal on tobacco products, in particular on the ban of EU exports on snus. The final report has only just been sent to the Commission on October 15. According to the press release, OLAF has noted that “ the Maltese entrepreneur had approached the company using his contacts with Mr Dalli and seeking financial benefits in exchange for influence over a possible future snus legislative proposal ". The OLAF report also specifies that “ No transaction has been concluded between the company and the contractor and no payment has been made ". " No conclusive evidence of Mr. Dalli's direct involvement » was not found. But also consider that it “ was aware of these events ».

However, the Commission clears itself of any attack on the merits of the file. " The decision-making process of the European Commission and the position of the services concerned has not been reached » by the questions under study. But President Barroso asked the commissioner to take his cues and slaps. Or rather as the official press release specifies. “The President informed Mr Dalli of the report received from OLAF. Mr Dalli has decided to resign in order to be able to defend his reputation and that of the Commission. Mr. Dalli categorically denies these results. The OLAF report was, however, sent to the Malta public prosecutor. It is " now it is up to the Maltese judiciary to decide what action to take “, we specify at the Berlaymont.

Until a new Maltese commissioner is appointed, it is the Slovak commissioner in charge of administration, Maros Sefcovic, who will monitor the files.

(Updated) The “Dalli” affair rebounds on the island. The intermediary involved was identified as the deputy mayor of Sliema (a seaside town a few km from the capital), member of the nationalist party, Silvio Zammit, according to the Maltese press. He also resigned this Tuesday for “personal reasons” says his party (read here).

As for the Swedish company Swedish Match, it also reacted to Dalli's resignation. “ The incident was immediately reported to the European Commission. Swedish Match expects that the European Commission will in the future be able to ensure a transparent and legally fair process for the proposal for a tobacco products directive which is expected in the autumn. (The company) expects their evidence of the scientific facts regarding snus, (which shows) a significantly lower risk compared to cigarettes, to be taken into account (fairly) in the proposal for a new directive on snus products tobacco. » (read there)

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Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).