EU ombudsman sounds alarm on tobacco lobby influence – 24 Global News | Latest International Breaking News Today

EU ombudsman sounds alarm on tobacco lobby influence – Latest International Breaking News Today

Veteran European ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has cautioned about the risks of tobacco lobbying’s influence on the European Commission.

In an op-ed published on the website Social Europe on Thursday (4 April), she raises concerns about unrecorded meetings and insufficient or absent minutes, voicing strong criticism.

“Key staff such as policy officers, usually responsible for writing and researching legislation, were not obliged to document any meetings with tobacco-industry representatives,” she said.

“I find it baffling that the commission should believe meetings between these staff and tobacco lobbyists are not covered by its transparency commitments,” she added. “Decision-makers rely on the expertise and input of those who work for them.”

Over the years, O’Reilly has investigated undue influencing of commission officials by the tobacco industry on two occasions. In 2016, she commended the commission’s health department for publishing its interactions with the industry, regardless of the seniority of staff involved.

But in her latest inquiry concluded late last year, she found that other departments have “refused to apply the same high standards across the board.”

This means that only meetings of the most senior officials have been recorded.

O’Reilly notes that other departments such as trade, the internal market, environment, and transport, as well as the EU’s Anti-Fraud Office, have had meetings with tobacco lobbyists in recent years.

Minutes either do not exist or “fail to provide a meaningful account of what was discussed,” she wrote, providing just a brief overview of the main topic and comments made by commission staff.

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“Good record-keeping is a precondition of transparency,” she added. “It is particularly disappointing that the commission is not keeping comprehensive minutes of all its meetings with tobacco-interest representatives.”

Tobacco use is the biggest reason for early death in the EU, causing almost 700,000 Europeans to die prematurely each year, according to the commission.

“Given these alarming statistics,” she wrote, “there should be a strong desire…to protect public decision-making from the harmful effects of tobacco lobbying.”

She also recommended that meetings with tobacco lobbyists “must be kept to the strict minimum required.”

In a reply to the ombudsman, the commission promised to examine how the tobacco industry influences it and will report on its progress later this year.

-24 Global News | Latest International Breaking News Today
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