Michel Petite

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Michel Petite's (1947) employment history is a classic example of the Revolving Door. After a career within the EU institutions that started in 1975 and ended with six years as the Head of Legal Affairs, Petite changed sides and started to work for Clifford Chance in 2008, counsellors representing corporate clients in Brussels.

Petite actively lobbied his former colleagues at Legal Affairs on behalf of Phillip Morris, and brokered meetings between the tobacco industry and the Commission for others. Meanwhile, as an eminence-gris of the EU, he got appointed head of the Ethics Committee responsible for monitoring conflicts of interest. Despite the worries of transparency campaigners in the aftermath of DalliGate, Petite was re-appointed in December 2012 for another three years.

Career

Michel Petite was the Director-General of the Legal Service of the European Commission from 2001 to the end of 2007. In 2008, he went to private law firm Clifford Chance, where he represents the interests of companies and specialises in European Commission policies, community law and competition law, alongside antitrust, trade, banking and taxation. While advertising lobbying services, in September 2013 the law firm has not signed up to the EU's Transparency Register.

His profile at the Clifford Chance website emphasises his broad experience in Brussels: At the Legal Service, Michel Petite was:

heading a staff of 200 providing advice to the Commission on proposed legislation, decisions and investigations, as well as representing the Commission at the European Court of Justice and at the World Trade Organisation. He was also a former legal adviser to three Commission Presidents: Jacques Delors, Romano Prodi (as Head of Cabinet), and José Manuel Barroso.[1]

Lobbying Former Colleagues at the EU Commission

Petite’s role at Clifford Chance includes ‘government relations and public policy’, in other words: lobbying activity. Talking about their "Political Advocacy Strategy', Clifford Chance tells potential clients:

You may be faced with the prospect of a regulatory development or policy decision that threatens the very nature of your business [...]
You will need to know who to approach and when, and how best to represent your interests to government. You may need to track the progress of new legislation in your national Parliament or a proposal for a Directive in the EU institutions.
We offer a blend of legal and political expertise and can assist in preparing position papers, approaching government or the EU institutions, campaigning, responding to public consultations, advising on the parliamentary and political process, and drafting and tabling amendments to proposed legislation.[2]

Double Revolving Doors

The EU Commission granted approval for Petite’s move to Clifford Chance, but told him not to lobby former colleagues or to deal with cases involving his previous department. However, the existing regulation limits such restriction to a period of one year after departure from the EU.

Petite's links with the tobacco industry stretch a period much longer than a year. For instance, he represented Philip Morris Norway in 2011 before the Court of Justice of the European Free Trade Association.[3] But in 2004, when working at the Commission, he signed the Anti-Contraband and Anti-Counterfeit Agreement with Philip Morris International, on behalf of the European Community. This agreement was part of an out of court settlement in a case of Philip Morris International’s involvement or complicity in large scale cigarette smuggling.[4]

To complicate the situation even further, Petite himself is the judge of his own behaviour. In December 2009, Petite was appointed President of the Commission’s ad hoc Ethical Committee, the authority responsible for assessing conflicts of interest and other ethical issues of Commissioners. (The other members were Rafael Garcia-Valdecasas, former judge at first instance court in Luxembourg - and Terry Wynn, former British Member of European Parliament (MEP) and Chairman of the committee budget to Parliament from 1999 to 2004.)

Lobbying on the Tobacco Products Directive

In the aftermath of the controversy surrounding the resignation of former Health Commissioner John Dalli, MEPs tabled 154 questions about contacts between the tobacco industry and decision makers on new regulation, including contacts of the European’ Commissions’ Legal Services with representatives of the tobacco industry.

‘There were no such contacts’, the Commission answered’[5], ‘Legal Service does not have contacts with industry representatives (companies or associations) on policy matters’. The only contacts are ‘with legal experts (be they from other institutions, Member State authorities, academia or legal practice). These contacts are typically limited to issues of EU law.'

Despite this refutation, the Commission goes on to remark that it had contact with Michel Petite, whose legal firm Clifford Chance was representing Philip Morris International at the time. According to the Commission, two conversations took place between Legal Service officials and Michel Petite in September 2011 and in September 2012, leading to a meeting between Petite and the Head of Legal Services in November 2012:

Mr Petite mentioned that his law firm provided legal advice to a tobacco company (Philip Morris International) and set out his views on some legal issues of tobacco legislation,” after which “Director-General Luis Romero asked to be personally updated by Mr Petite of his legal counsel activities in this area” leading to a meeting on 14 November 2012.[6][7][8]

Worst Lobby Award

The move from Legal Affairs to a legal office that specialised in lobbying the EU Commission got Petite short-listed for the Worst EU Lobbying Award in 2008. The latest revelations underscore the need for stronger regulation on revolving doors in Brussels. Transparency advocates united in the Alter EU Campaign launched a petition for more transparency, including a ‘cool down’ period of at least two years between work for the EU and a move to private organisations, instead of the present 12 months.[9]

The German newspaper der Spiegel shares its concerns:

Michel Petite is the chief responsible for ethics within the EU Commission. The former General Director of Legal Affairs monitors the transition of Brussels civil servants from public to private sector jobs. Usually Petite approves his ex-colleagues change of sites: he knows best when it comes to cashing in on your network: since his retirement he has worked for the Paris office of Clifford Chance, lobbying for Philip Morris amongst other things.[10]

However, despite debates on tobacco industry influence and revelations about his lobbying role, in December 2012 Michel Petite was re-appointed head of the Ethics Committee for another three years.

Formal Complaint

On 14 January 2013, the EU-Watchdog organisation, Corporate Europe Observatory, along with Lobby Control and Corporate Accountability International, submitted a formal complaint to European Commission President Barroso over Petite’s controversial re-appointment

The groups pointed out that “

Article 4 of the 2003 Commission decision on establishing the ad hoc ethical committee states that the appointment of a member requires their ‘independence, an impeccable re-cord of professional behaviour as well as sound knowledge of the existing legal framework and working methods of the Commission’.
We believe that the questions raised about the independence of Mr. Petite mean he is not a suitable person to hold this position ... It is our opinion that Mr. Petite’s role representing Philip Morris International (and other corporate clients) raises doubts about his independence and his ability to rigorously assess potential conflicts of interest and judge whether ex-Commissioners moving into private sector lobby jobs are appropriate or not. We also believe that the fact that Mr. Petite works for a law firm that offers lobbying services but which has not signed up to the Transparency Register calls into question whether he has an “impeccable record of professional behaviour” in relation to ethics and lobbying.[11]

One MEP Labels Re-appointment "A Disgrace"

MEPs have also been critical of Mr. Petite's re-appointment. EPP deputy Inge Gräßle said the decision was "lacking in instinct" and was an "impossible act".

French deputy Green MEP, José Bové, branding the appointment a "disgrace". Bové said: "Rules have been put in place that are binding [in the] convention on tobacco control, which says that you cannot have relationships that are under the table. All EU member states have signed up to this. There are clear rules, and those rules have not been applied." [12]

TobaccoTactics Resources

External Resources

Notes

  1. Clifford Chance website, Michel Petite, accessed 20 Dec 2012
  2. Clifford Chance website, Political Advocacy Strategy, accessed 20 Dec 2012
  3. EFTA, Report of the EFTA Court, 2011, accessed September 2013
  4. M. Schreyer, [http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-04-358_en.htm European Commissioner for Budget Statement on the Anti-Contraband and Anti-Counterfeit Agreement with Philip Morris], Press Conference Brussels, 9 July 2004, accessed September 2013
  5. Corporate Europe Observatory, Commission and OLAF's response to Parliament’s 154 Dalligate questions, 10 Dec 2012, accessed 21 Dec 2012
  6. European Anti Fraud Office (OLAF), Replies to the Questionnairefrom the Committee on Budgetary Control of the European Parliament concerning the resignation of the former Commissioner John Dalli, 30 Nov 2012, accessed 21 Dec 2012
  7. Corporate Europe Observatory, Revealed: EU's revolving door facilitates tobacco lobby meetings, 10 Dec 2012, accessed 20 Dec 2012
  8. Corporate Europe Observatory, Commission and OLAF's response to Parliament’s 154 Dalligate questions, 10 Dec 2012, accessed 21 Dec 2012
  9. AlterEU, The Revolving Door in Detail, accessed 21 Dec 2012
  10. C. Pauly, Aber Dalli!, der Spiegel, 17 December 2012, p. 86 (translation: TobaccoTactics editor)
  11. O. Hoedeman, Corporate Europe Observatory; Nina Katzemich, LobbyControl; John Stewart, Corporate Accountability International, The decision to renew the mandate of the members of the ad hoc ethical committee, Complaint to President Barroso, 14 January 2013
  12. M. Banks, Reappointment of commission advisor branded a 'scandal', the parliament.com, 14 January 2013