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Ombudsman finds lack of transparency in Commission meetings with tobacco lobbyists

The Ombudsman has asked the Commission to respond to preliminary inquiry findings about a lack of transparency in its interactions with tobacco lobbyists. Her preliminary view is that this constitutes maladministration.

Following a detailed examination of documents concerning Commission meetings with tobacco industry representatives in 2020 and 2021, the Ombudsman identified several transparency concerns.

The inquiry shows that numerous Commission departments had meetings with tobacco representatives in this period, yet the health department (DG SANTE) was the only one that proactively publishes records of all such meetings with its officials irrespective of grade seniority.

Other departments - including Trade, Internal Market, and Climate Action – proactively publish only meetings with senior officials or Commissioners. Those taking place at less senior levels were not made public proactively.  This shows that the approach to tobacco lobbying has not changed since the Ombudsman’s last inquiry in 2016.

In 2004, the EU signed up to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Signatories are obliged to limit its interactions with the tobacco industry and to make those interactions transparent.

The inquiry also finds that the Commission did not keep minutes of all of the meetings that took place in 2020 and 2021. The Ombudsman therefore wonders how the Commission can reassure the public that its interactions with tobacco lobbyists do not undermine public health policies - as required by the FCTC - if minutes do not exist that detail what actually took place at those meetings.

The Ombudsman is asking the Commission to explain how it assesses the necessity of meetings with tobacco lobbyists as the inquiry showed that such assessments are not made systematically. The FCTC’s guidelines state that interactions with the tobacco industry should take place only when strictly necessary from a regulatory point of view.

The Ombudsman’s preliminary view is that the failure of the Commission as a whole to proactively publish details of its meetings with tobacco lobbyists is maladministration as is its failure to keep minutes of all such meetings.

She has asked the Commission to respond to her preliminary findings by mid-July 2023.

This inquiry is a follow-up to an inquiry in 2016, which found maladministration in light of the Commission’s refusal to apply DG SANTE’s proactive transparency policy across all of its departments.