Home > Committee on Public Petitions debate - engagement with European Ombudsman.

[Oireachtas] Committee on Public Petitions debate - engagement with European Ombudsman. (23 Mar 2023)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/commit...

Senator Fintan Warfield: I hope Ms O'Reilly is well. I thank her for attending the Committee of Public Petitions and for briefing members on her annual report. I am interested in chatting to her about the accountability in decision-making. She mentioned in her opening statement references to information requests around inappropriate or opaque lobbying. Her report also talks about tobacco lobbyists. Obviously the EU is party to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control "according to which it must prevent the tobacco industry from having a negative impact on public health policies". My assumption was that tobacco lobbyists are not welcome in Brussels but that may be more particular to health policy. This brings to mind the issue of fossil fuels lobbyists. I am aware it is not within Ms O'Reilly's remit but COP27 was attended by more than 600 fossil fuels lobbyists, which was more delegates than the combined total of the ten countries most impacted by climate change. We saw various comparisons drawn between COP and fossil fuel lobbyists. Arms dealers would not be seen at peace conventions or indeed tobacco lobbyists at health conferences. Returning to the European Parliament, Russian interests are barred from the European Parliament. When I think about fossil fuel lobbyists, many MEPs take information and guidance through events or briefing notes from fossil fuel lobbyists. Sometimes these are the likes of Eurogas, FuelsEurope, or Hydrogen Europe. These organisations have been called Trojan horses for the likes of Shell and other companies. If I believe fossil fuel lobbyists should be barred from the European Parliament, and that transparency of dealing with them is not enough given the climate crises we have to deal with, what can we learn from the experience of the tobacco rules? What works and what does not work in terms of those rules? I assume Ms O'Reilly will not make comment on whether we should bar fossil fuel lobbyists but my question is on what works and what does not work in terms of the tobacco rules.


...Ms Emily O'Reilly: That is a really good question. The Senator is referring to Article 5 of the UN Convention in relation to control of tobacco and that refers to narrowing, to the greatest extent possible, the contacts between tobacco lobbyists and administrations. We had a case several years ago in relation to that in which I was very critical of the Commission. DG SANTE, in other words, the department of health in the Commission, was the only department that was registering its meetings with the tobacco lobbyists. We were of the opinion that if the spirit of Article 5 of that UN Convention on the control of tobacco was being followed, meetings right across the Commission would be registered and publicised. It makes sense because tobacco lobbyists are not just lobbying the health department; they might avoid this department. However, they are possibly lobbying across trade, competition and all sorts of areas. I am still scratching my head wondering why, when that was such an easy thing for the Commission to do, it did not do it. There may be some big lobbying thing at the back of all of that; I do not know. 

That was the easy part of the Senator's question in a way. On fossil fuel lobbying, I am sure it is incredibly intense with the fuel crisis, the climate crisis and all of that in there at the eye of the storm. The difficulty is how one slices and dices fossil fuel lobbyists, who they are and what they are representing. Some of them may be representing parts of the industry, parts of companies or whatever organisation commissioners or parliamentarians feel they need to talk to. It is not that fossils fuels and everything that comes from them are going to be eliminated overnight. Processes are ongoing. The most important thing for me is that they are made transparent but also that people understand the forms that lobbying takes. It is not simply somebody marching up to a Commissioner's office, knocking on the door and saying "hello, can I lobby you about this". It is much more subtle than that. Some members may recall there was a big leak of papers related to lobbying by Uber. It was trying influence regulation across the EU to liberalise the taxi market and so on. The myriad of tactics it used were extraordinary. Those are the tactics used across the board, though not all of them are used by every company or sector. I can imagine that is being done intensively with respect to tobacco, because I think the tobacco regulation is being revised, and certainly with respect to fossil fuels.

I was reading Politico, a Brussels-based media outlet, this morning. It detailed the amount of lobbying going on by the people who produce arms in the defence industry as the EU embraces a much greater role in that than people might ever have imagined. Lobbying, therefore, is very intense. Going back to Qatargate, one might ask why it is important to lobby the Parliament. It is important because the Parliament is really important. People have an outdated view of the powers of the Parliament that goes back 20 or 30 years, before the Lisbon and Nice treaties and the Parliament's becoming a co-legislator with the Council. We do many investigations into many complaints related to lobbying and it is the same message all the time, namely, the administration must be aware of the various ways lobbying is done and it must be done transparently. This issue about tobacco lobbying has come up again and there is an issue with the fact many of those meetings have not been registered. It does not mean that if a freedom of information, FOI, request is made asking whether the Directorate General for Competition has met any tobacco lobbyist or people representing the industry recently, it will say "Yes". It could give it but it will not proactively tell it. It is also probably not the case that tobacco lobbyists will not be found at health conferences, because we have now moved into vaping and all that, so the influencing piece is about trying to persuade people this is healthier than the regular old cigarettes. I am not sure they always make that clean divide between them...

[For the full debate, click this link to the Oireachtas website]

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