The peculiar case of John Dalli

The Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament, comprising the President and the leaders of the political groups, decided on 26 October, to formally ask Commission President Barroso to provide the Parliament with additional information on the circumstances of Mr John Dalli’s resignation from his post as Member of the European Commission.

The European Parliament also wants to have adequate access to the OLAF final report made after a complaint by Swedish tobacco producer Swedish Match.

Mr Dalli’s controversial resignation came in the wake of a report by OLAF, linking Mr Dalli to Maltese entrepreneur Silvio Zammit. According to OLAF, Mr. Zammit approached the leading manufacturer of snus, Swedish Match, offering to work with Mr Dalli to legalise their product, in the EU in exchange for €60m.

While the OLAF report did not find any conclusive evidence of the direct participation of Mr Dalli in the affair, Mr. Dalli’s announced his resignation on 16 October.

The next day Mr. Dalli denied he had resigned voluntarily and suggested that his departure was somehow related to intrigues of the tobacco industry. In a press conference held on 24 October Mr Dalli stated that he would challenge Mr. Barroso’ decision asking him to resign as well as the OLAF findings. The former commissioner further stated that the precise nature of his challenge was yet to be determined since he had yet to see the OLAF report.

Despite various calls by MEPs, the international media and Mr Dalli himself, OLAF’s investigation report was not yet published. OLAF director general Giovanni Kessler said it was not up to OLAF to publish the report, however, OLAF would not object if the Maltese authorities decide to make its contents public.

Mr. Dalli’s resignation oddly coincides with thereview of Directive 2001/37/EC on tobacco products. The Directive proposes to put a number of restrictions on the design of cigarette packets and tighten regulations on the use of flavouring in tobacco, which would have included products such as snus.

Snus is a small pouch, which is placed under the upper lip. It contains dried ground tobacco mixed with aromatic substances. Though the EU banned its sale in 1992, Sweden, where as many as 20% of the population are thought to be users, is exempt after it negotiated a waver on joining the EU in 1995.

While the new directive would have not directly targeted Sweden’s derogation of snus sale, the proposed legislation would have affected the tobacco flavours used in snus which would cost the tobacco industry, especially in Sweden, millions of EUR.

In an interview to the Maltese newspaper Mr Dalli expressed his concerns regarding the future of the directive, saying that even with the immediate appointment of a new commissioner the delay in the review could stretch the process beyond the timetable of the legislature.

Answering these concerns, Commission spokesperson insisted, on 24 October, that the revamped tobacco directive would be enacted by the end of the year as planned. The Parliament itself has made arrangements for the hearing of Dalli’s successor, Tonio Borg on 13 November. Following the hearing the parliament will then vote on the nomination during the November plenary.

The mysterious events leading to Mr. Dalli’s resignation could be pure coincidence, yet one may not disregard the fact it can be more than that…

More information on snus from the World Health Organization:

http://www.who.int/tobacco/sactob/recommendations/en/smokeless_en.pdf

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