End EU Council sponsorship deals now!

  • politics and law

***action closed*** The email campaign against the sponsoring of the Portuguese Presidency has ended. Many thanks to over 65,000 supporters! Unfortunately, we were not able to stop the sponsoring of the Portuguese Presidency with the e-mail campaign. Member States are clearly unable to disassociate themselves from corporate interests and continue to put the reputation of the EU at risk. foodwatch will not stop putting the pressure on Member States to renounce private sponsorship. Germany held a sponsorship-free Presidency in 2020 and there is no reason why others should not follow the good example. We will now focus on France in particular, who takes over the EU Presidency in January 2022.


End EU Council sponsorship deals now!

  • politics and law

***action closed*** The email campaign against the sponsoring of the Portuguese Presidency has ended. Many thanks to over 65,000 supporters! Unfortunately, we were not able to stop the sponsoring of the Portuguese Presidency with the e-mail campaign. Member States are clearly unable to disassociate themselves from corporate interests and continue to put the reputation of the EU at risk. foodwatch will not stop putting the pressure on Member States to renounce private sponsorship. Germany held a sponsorship-free Presidency in 2020 and there is no reason why others should not follow the good example. We will now focus on France in particular, who takes over the EU Presidency in January 2022.

Dear Prime Minister Costa,

Dear Ambassadors, 

I am writing to ask you to deliver a full and complete ban on all future corporate sponsorship of EU Council Presidencies during the Portuguese Presidency of the EU Council. I am very surprised to see that private companies are associated as sponsors or even “partners” to Council Presidencies and am very concerned about the obvious risks of conflicts of interest.

In response to a complaint from foodwatch the European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has highlighted the “reputational risks” that such deals provoke and she demanded new EU Council guidelines.

In my view these guidelines must state clearly that there is no place for corporate sponsorship of EU Council Presidencies. Presidencies should not be doing such deals, corporate logos should not be on official EU Presidency websites, and businesses should not see Presidency events and activities as a PR opportunity.

The decision of the preceding German Presidency of the Council to reject sponsorship deals has been warmly welcomed. A ban on future sponsorship deals will send a clear message to the public that, on this issue, the EU Council chooses to prioritise the public interest over corporate interests, and integrity over controversy. 

Please use your Presidency to agree to new Council guidelines which clearly state that there is no place for corporate sponsorship of EU Council Presidencies.

Yours sincerely
Your first name & surname, place and comment, if given (will be completed automatically)

  • António Costa, Prime Minister of Portugal

Permanent Representatives to the European Union

  • HE Mr Nikolaus MARSCHIK, Austria 
  • Mr Willem VAN DE VOORDE, Belgium
  • HE Mr Dimiter TZANTCHEV, Bulgaria
  • HE Ms Irena ANDRASSY, Croatia
  • HE Mr Nicholas EMILIOU, Cyprus
  • HE Ms Edita HRDÁ, Czech Republic
  • HE Mr Jonas BERING, Denmark
  • HE Mr Aivo ORAV, Estonia
  • HE Ms Marja RISLAKKI, Finland
  • HE Mr Philippe LÉGLISE-COSTA, France
  • HE Mr Michael CLAUSS, Germany
  • HE Mr Ioannis VRAILAS, Greece
  • HE Mr Tibor STELBACZKY, Hungary
  • HE Mr Declan KELLEHER, Ireland
  • HE Mr Maurizio MASSARI, Italy
  • HE Ms Sanita PAVĻUTA-DESLANDES, Latvia
  • Mr Simonas ŠATŪNAS, Lithuania
  • HE Mr Georges FRIDEN, Luxembourg
  • HE Ms Marlene BONNICI, Malta
  • HE Mr Robert DE GROOT, Netherlands
  • Mr Andrzej SADOŚ, Poland
  • HE Mr Nuno BRITO, Portugal
  • HE Ms Luminiţa Teodora ODOBESCU, Romania
  • Mária MALOVÁ, Slovakia
  • HE Mr Iztok JARC, Slovenia
  • HE Mr Pablo GARCÍA-BERDOY, Spain
  • HE Mr Lars DANIELSSON, Sweden
  • Jeppe TRANHOLM-MIKKELSEN, DG Council of European Union

Planning, costs and transparency in the presidency of the Council of the European Union 

by Augusto Santos Silva on 11 March 2021 in the Portuguese daily newspaper "Diário de Notícias" as a reaction to this email action and the public criticism by foodwatch. Original text here (portuguese).

The recent publication of an article on the online news site Politico gave rise to remarks and questions regarding the logistical organisation of the Portuguese presidency of the Council of the European Union (PPEU). I therefore thank DDN for this opportunity to provide clarifications that may help readers make their own judgement.

1. A European presidency is organised far in advance. In this case, the Resolution of the Council of Ministers that created the respective mission structure was published in March 2019. At that time the objective of reducing its overall cost by 10% was established, in relation to the total presidency spending of 2007. This objective will be surpassed by a considerable margin. On the one hand, the international summit (with India) is significantly smaller than the one held in 2007; on the other hand, the fact that a large part of all events (meetings, conferences, etc.) have been held virtually also generates obvious savings.

2. Covid-19 has forced several adjustments to be made over the course of the second semester of 2020. A presidency that was originally conceived in the usual terms (with physical events) became hybrid; and now the balance between face-to-face and virtual is evolving as the pandemic develops. In January, meetings with the president of the European Council and the College of Commissioners were held face-to-face; since then, the events have been primarily virtual; we hope to revert back to face-to-face meetings in the second half of the PPEU. This is why, for example, we postponed the informal Foreign Affairs and Defence councils until the end of May. I don’t believe I need to explain why we conducted the most important meetings face-to-face, whenever possible.

3. While a significant overall saving is generated by a hybrid presidency, it also entails additional costs in certain areas. Fixed structures (installations, equipment, services) have to be prepared for both scenarios: physical and virtual; and, for the former to be possible, one must, for example, redesign the installations so as to comply with the new sanitary standards. This is what we have done with the press centre. It was originally located in an internal room, where, under normal conditions, dozens of journalists could assemble. But the social distancing rules meant we had to expand the area and the supports provided. Naturally, this led to additional costs. The argument that it is a superfluous expense because the journalists have been working remotely does not stick. Firstly, it is untrue that the centre is deserted; as roughly half of it is permanently occupied by the PPEU host broadcaster; and secondly, the centre had to be operational so that, when it was allowed, the journalists could cover meetings in person.

4. A European Presidency is a very important endeavour from a political-diplomatic and security point of view, but also for the international promotion of our culture and territory. It is hard for me to understand that this is questioned in any way. But as there are questions being asked, let’s tackle them: Yes, the drivers who ensure the transportation of delegations cannot wear what they like and have to wear uniforms, which are of course purchased not by the drivers themselves, but by the organisation. Yes, our presidency, just like all the others, accepts institutional product offers (ties, handkerchiefs, pencils, notebooks, memo pads, etc.) and such exposure is used to advertise Portuguese agricultural food products (wine, olive oil, salt etc.); which now includes the provision of face masks. Yes, the meals served in the sphere of the PPEU have drinks, including wine (Portuguese, of course). Yes, we hold concerts, exhibitions and art installations, which are determined not by public tender based on price and delivery time, but rather by curators, who make selections based on programmatic and qualitative criteria. Yes, we have had to contract our own communications system, also certified by national security rules, because it would be unthinkable for ministers to communicate virtually without additional digital privacy precautions being taken. The contracts are public and audited by the competent agencies; and it is this absolute transparency that allows us to discuss utility and values.

5. Recourse to private direct contracting is safeguarded by law. The reasons for this are simple: the specificity of many services, which limits market availability, indeed aggravated by the pandemic; and time restrictions, with it being unimaginable that the PPEU could remain hostage to the slowness and litigation so often associated to contracting through public tender. Of all the 138 companies contracted to date, five had been established for less than nine months when hired; of those, two were less than three months old, and in both cases this had resulted from the transformation of the corporate nature of a service provider which was previously operational (one sole trader who converted into a one-person company and a company that increased its base of partners). I can confirm here and now that one person who did not qualify in any of the higher technical exams which he took was later hired to provide technical support services - but only once the list of candidates who had previously qualified for this position had been exhausted.

6. Finally, sponsorships. Of the many that I have witnessed, I only know of one European presidency that claimed to have excluded sponsorships. The EU Ombudsman having an opposite opinion, just in itself, does not change the law. Our decision was to reduce them to a minimum. Yes, the coffees, some juices and the notepads of the PPEU constitute donations in kind from Portuguese companies. To think that this fact allows for any kind of pressure to be exerted on our diplomacy and foreign policy would reveal a massive degree of ignorance about these matters. But it is worth reflecting with more time on the different modalities, both legitimate and illegitimate, of relationship between companies and powers, and I therefore promise to come back to this issue.

The General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union responded with an email to our campaign to end corporate sponsorship of EU Council Presidencies. Their response highlights the planned guidelines by the council and the individual responsibility and transparency of the Member states holding the Presidency. But we think, that transparency of sponsorship deals is not enough to tackle the fundamental flaw in the sponsorship model. Anything short of a complete ban of sponsorship will be a symbol that the Council is too close to corporate power within the EU. We call on the Council to show leadership and stop the corporate sponsorship of all Council Presidencies.

Dear Madam, Sir,
Thank your message of 16/03/2021 on the issue of Presidency sponsorship addressed to the Secretary-General of the Council Mr. Tranholm-Mikkelsen. As you know, the practice of Presidency sponsorship has been widely used in the past. Further to the Ombudsman Recommendation on commercial sponsorship of Presidencies of the Council of the European Union, the Council explained in its detailed opinion of 6 May 2020 that it is for the Member State holding the Presidency to finance activities falling outside the institutional framework organised by it and that it is for that Member State to decide how to finance those activities. It also indicated that the Council will explore the possibility of providing best practice guidance so that Member States holding future Presidencies are aware of the possible reputational risk when assessing the possible recourse to sponsorship (Council document 7516/20).
The General Secretariat of the Council issued a draft suggestion for such guidance, which is currently being examined by the relevant Council preparatory body.

 Yours sincerely,

Fernando Florindo Gijon
Council of the European Union
General Secretariat
Communication & information
Information Services

FAQ EU-Sponsoring

Every six months, on 1 January and 1 July each year, an EU member state takes over the role of the EU Council Presidency. This is an important role: deciding which draft laws the Council will prioritise for scrutiny and making proposals on them, as well as representing all the other member states in negotiations with other EU institutions.

But almost every recent Presidency (with the recent exception of the German Government, July-December 2020) has accepted sponsorship for its Presidency from national or multinational businesses. This sponsorship can be for goods or services in kind (the provision of catering at meetings or events, vehicles to transport ministers and officials to meetings inside the country etc.) or it can be in the form of cash payments.

Some Presidencies have offered corporations platinum or gold levels of sponsorship, although a lack of transparency means we have no idea what benefits are conferred (Romanian Government, January-June 2019). Other Presidencies have proactively advertised for sponsors, offering “priceless exposure, prestige and enhanced brand recognition for their services and products” (Maltese Government, January-June 2017).

While corporate sponsorship is always a problem, many of the businesses that Council Presidencies have signed deals with are especially problematic.

The Portuguese Government has accepted sponsorship from three companies for its current Council Presidency, including the distributor of PepsiCo in Portugal (sumol + compal), and The Navigator Company, Europe’s largest paper products company which has been associated with monoculture plantations and , forest fires in Portugal, and land-grabbing in the global south.

Meanwhile the Croatian Presidency (January-June 2020) accepted sponsorship from INA, an oil company, and automobile producers Peugeot and Citroën. For the Finnish Presidency (July-December 2019) it was BMW; and for the Romanian Presidency (January-June 2019) sponsors included Coca-Cola, Mercedes, and oil company OMV Petrom. The Austrian Presidency (July-December 2018) was sponsored by, amongst others, Microsoft and Porsche, while the Bulgarian Presidency (January-June 2018) accepted as many as 50 private sponsors! In fact this shoddy practice goes back to at least 2004.

Some of these corporations are major EU lobbyists, spending millions of euros a year influencing EU policy-making. It is absolutely clear why these corporations would wish to ingratiate themselves with Council Presidencies, member state ministers and officials, even if the full details of the benefits they receive are kept hidden from the public.

Council Presidencies receive some EU funding to cover the costs of running Council meetings, providing interpretation, and other costs. But Presidencies tend to organise additional, informal meetings, in the home country, and the costs of these are generally not covered by the EU. As a result, some governments argue that they need sponsorship as the “expenses associated with holding the Presidency are significant” (Portugal, January-June 2021).

Other governments have argued that purchasing rules required them to accept offers of sponsorship (Estonia, July-December 2017).

Meanwhile some governments see sponsorship as a chance to promote national brands to a wider (and influential) audience.

But EU member states have failed to calculate the “reputational damage” and risk of conflicts of interest which can result from such murky deals.

Outraged by the sponsorship of the Romanian Presidency by Coca-Cola in 2019, foodwatch made a complaint to the European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly who agreed that these deals provoked “reputational risks” to the EU and that guidelines should be put in place.

Meanwhile, Members of the European Parliament have also expressed strong concern about the “possible reputational damage and the risk of loss of trust” in the EU, prompted by such sponsorships.

In response to the European Ombudsman’s ruling, the EU member states in the Council have been discussing a set of guidelines to regulate corporate sponsorship.

However, the guidelines currently on the table are very weak and would not ban the practice, but simply demand greater transparency about it. In fact, according to this article, the Portuguese Government is part of a group of member states (including the French Government, which will hold the Council presidency in 2022) which has been advocating for even weaker guidelines which would not mitigate the problem at all.

Now that the Portuguese Council Presidency has accepted sponsorship itself, attracting renewed criticism of the practice, it is time to take a stand and demand that Prime Minister Costa reverses position.

This is the easy bit!

The EU member states should agree to ban all corporate sponsorship of future Council Presidencies. The Council should make sure that all essential costs of Presidencies are funded by the EU budget, and member states should commit to paying a fair price for any services or products that they choose to purchase to supplement their Presidencies, in order to avoid any sense of sponsorship, favour, or conflict of interest.

The most recent Presidency, that of the German Government (July-December 2020), opted against signing such dodgy deals. Such an approach must now become the norm.

Such a policy would end, for once and for all, a long-term practice that has favoured corporate interests - and long been derided by the public and the media.

foodwatch started the petition on 03.03.2021 and ended it on 01.07.2021.