EU Institutions

Ethics Committee: the Commission does not renounce Michel Petite

(BRUXELLES2) Michel Petite's reappointment to the European Commission's Ethics Committee last December was a challenge. Was the presence of this (brilliant) former legal director of the Commission who became a business lawyer in a forum called upon to decide on the professional future of Commissioners after their term of office, particularly with regard to possible conflicts of interest, justified ? one might ask. Its proximity to certain industrial circles, tobacco, had been mentioned. But the Commission had killed any desire for introspection by ratifying this choice. " He's a lawyer, not a lobbyist. (Besides) the word lobbyist is not a dirty word, it is an essential part of the democratic debate. What is essential is not to have a conflict of interest. (And there) There is no conflict of interest. ” the spokesperson for the President of the Commission replied to the press.

However, the OLAF investigation into the Dalli affair revealed a more troubling facet. According to the official version given by Swedish Match, the Swedish Snus industrialist contacted his lawyer... Michel Petite for advice. And this one would have alerted the general secretary, Catherine Day. This would have led to referral to OLAF. Version confirmed at the beginning of May by the Commission. " The very first notification of the facts actually comes from Michel Petite to our general secretary says the spokesperson. This shows that the lawyer was very close to the tobacco industry and that the Commission's former legal director still had direct access to the Commission. How else could it be?

I questioned President Barroso's spokesman to find out whether this position had changed in the light of these recent events. No change, I was told. The Commission persists and signs and wants to keep Michel Petite on board the ethics committee:

“The situation is indeed unchanged. There are no new elements giving rise to a reassessment of this position within the Ad-hoc Ethics Committee, which has a specific mission unrelated to the Dalli affair. »

And to clarify on the question of the role of Mr. Petite in the Dalli affair:

 “Mr. Petite played no role in the Dalli investigation, nor in the opening of the independent investigation by OLAF, nor in the conduct of this investigation. His role was limited to alerting the Secretary General of the Commission to elements which had been communicated to him by Swedish Match and which seemed to cause concern for the reputation of the Commission. As a former Director General of the Commission, this approach was perfectly correct and in no way in conflict with his role within the Ad Hoc Ethics Committee. It was then Swedish Match which reported to the Commission the elements and facts of which this company was aware and the Commission forwarded them to OLAF. »

Comment. We can still be taken aback. The qualities of Michel Petite are not in question. But it now appears that he was and is counsel for a tobacco company which, first of all, lobbied a commissioner and then seized OLAF, seeing itself as the object (according to its statements) of an attempt at corruption. This referral led both to the departure (eviction) of the commissioner from the Commission and to a succession of disputes: OLAF's action against the commissioner's "accomplices" before the Maltese authorities, the former commissioner's reply for defamation before the Belgian courts against Swedish Match and before the Court of First Instance of the European Union to challenge the conditions of his eviction by the Commission, etc. For its part, the European Commission is involved in at least one way, as a trigger for proceedings against the commissioner, and as a stakeholder before the TPIUE.

In short, there is clearly a doubt or even a clear conflict of interest between the advisory function of a company and the fact of being a member of the Commission's ethics committee... Stubbornly not seeing it coming from a politically savvy man like JM Barroso is quite astonishing! Or has the Dalli affair not yet revealed all its facets? In all cases, a "textual" explanation by the President of the Commission before a democratic forum, such as the European Parliament, is now necessary.

Read also: An ethical issue...

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).

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