European Policy Centre

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Background

The Brussels based European Policy Centre (EPC) describes itself as an independent, not-for-profit think tank that works at the "cutting edge" of European and global policymaking.[1] The EPC was instrumental in helping British American Tobacco (BAT) and other corporations achieve the introduction of what is now known as EU Better Regulation principles. It is now widely accepted that Better Regulation favours business interests and largely sidelines social and environmental interests and concerns.

The Centre should not be confused with the UK-based Economic Policy Centre.

History of Working with the Tobacco Industry

Working with BAT

BAT and the EPC worked together to introduce mandatory impact assessment as part of all European Union (EU) policy making. Legacy documents in the tobacco archive show that BAT recruited the EPC to help influence the European Commission’s decision making on regulatory impact assessments. BAT's recuitment of the EPC and their creation of a third-party group in the 1990s, the Risk Assessment Forum (into which they recruited other large corporations) to pursue their interests has been summarised in a peer-reviewed publication in PLoS medicine.[2] In this article Smith et al describe how BAT co-ordinated a lobbying network to influence European Policy making:

The aim of BAT's campaign was to make its preferred form of cost-benefit impact assessments legally binding within EU policymaking. The documents show correspondence for the preparation of a conference on the issue in April 1998.[3] In the same period, BAT worked with at least one other think tank, the Forum for EU/US Legal-Economic Affairs, to establish a EU Better Regulation coalition.

In an earlier note, EPC advised BAT "both to increase the hard core of four companies and to increase the industry spread" to endorse the idea for the conference.[4] The note also says, 'you may wish to contact Dirk Hudig before finalising it [the proposal for the Forum]'. At the time, as president of the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium and manager of EU government relations at ICI (a UK Chemical company), Dirk Hudig was crucial in the lobby for tobacco friendly legislation in the EU. (At the time of writing in 2013, Hudig still held the post as head of the European Risk Forum).[5]

BAT favoured business impact assessment because it:

  • Provided an economic framework for evaluating all policy decisions, thereby prioritising costs to businesses
  • Secured early corporate involvement in policy discussions
  • Gave corporations an advantage over other actors by increasing policy maker dependence on the information corporations could supply
  • Provided businesses with a persuasive method of opposition to policies that they didn't like


Influenced EU Policy whilst Hiding Tobacco Industry Involvement

BAT was successful. All new public policy in the EU must now go through a process of mandatory impact assessment.

According to Smith et al (2010), the European Commission describes its impact assessment as "a thorough and balanced appraisal of all impacts". The current impact assessment tool aims to assess policy impact in three areas:

1. Economic
2. Environment
3. Social Issues

However, it has been suggested (as hoped for by the tobacco industry and other large corporations) that economic impacts receive the most attention.[2]

The objectives of BAT and its allies were obscured by the use of the European Policy Centre. Smith et al noted in their 2010 paper:

  • In recruiting the EPC and expanding the coalition of corporations, BAT’s aim appears to have been to deliberately manufacture a supportive ‘‘policy network’’, thereby increasing both the credibility and the size of the campaign, and obfuscating the tobacco industry’s specific interests in risk assessment.[2]


  • Our findings suggest that BAT and its corporate allies have fundamentally altered the way in which all EU policy is made by making a business-oriented form of IA [Impact Assessment] mandatory. This increases the likelihood that the EU will produce policies that advance the interests of major corporations, including those that produce products damaging to health, rather than in the interests of its citizens.


The campaign successfully hid the involvement of the tobacco industry:

The fact that our interviews with European Commission staff revealed no awareness of tobacco industry involvement in campaigns for Impact Assessment (or of the extent to which business interests may be privileged through Impact Assessment) corroborates claims, made elsewhere, that policy makers may be unaware of how changes to policy are taking effect or who is behind them.[2]

Since these revelations were made public, Hans Martens, the chief executive of the European Policy Centre has said that "BAT is one of the members, but not very active in EPC, and they do not get any special favours, as no other member organisation does." [6]

The European Policy Centre Risk Forum and the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Article 5.3

BAT's collaboration with the European Policy Centre did not end in the 1990s. In 2010, the report The smoke filled room: How big tobacco influences health policy in the UK noted that:

In 2003 the European Commission introduced a collection of principles for consulting stakeholders known as the “General principles and minimum standards for consultation of interested parties by the Commission”. These standards are now being used to justify consultation with the tobacco industry and may result in weakened guidelines of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control's (FCTC) Article 5.3, which stipulates that public health policies should be protected from tobacco industry interference.

The 2003 principles of consultation and impact assessment have been interpreted by some European Commission staff as requiring personal consultation with tobacco industry representatives. In fact these principles and standards appear to have been heavily based on the opinions of a EPC Risk Forum which was chaired by Christopher Proctor, BAT’s head of science and regulation.

The report continued:

The EPC Risk Forum argued that when the EU Commission was developing policy it should increase business consultations and involve business stakeholders in the earliest stages of the decision making process. For over a year and a half BAT’s Stuart Chalfen worked to increase membership of the Forum so as to be able to create the impression that there was a groundswell of support for the proposals.[7]

BAT’s Stuart Chalfen has a long history of lobbying and networking. In late 1993 and early 1994, Chalfen approached influential people high up in the largest multinational companies for membership of a similar lobby group, mentioned above, the Forum for EU/US Legal-Economic Affairs. This Forum also worked with BAT on the EU Better Regulation coalition.

Notes

  1. European Policy Centre, Website, Accessed September 2011
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 K. Smith, G. Fooks, J. Collin, H. Weishaar, S. Mandal, A. Gilmore, "'Working the system' British American Tobacco's influence on the European Union Treaty and its implications for policy: an analysis of internal tobacco industry documents", PLoS Medicine, 2010, 7(1),e1000202
  3. European Policy Centre, 'Evaluating Risk: a Balancing Act', 1 February 1998 (scrolling through the Bates numbers of the documents before and after this document give access to more correspondence on this conference}
  4. Letter EPC to BAT, Risk Assessment Forum, October 1987, accessed 28 September 2011
  5. European Risk Forum Executive Committee, Accessed June 2013
  6. Leigh Phillips, Big tobacco distorted EU treaty, scientists say, EU Observer, 13 January 2010, Accessed September 2011
  7. ASH, The smoke filled room: How big tobacco influences health policy in the UK, May 2010, Accessed September 2011