News 01.07.2021

EU guidelines against sponsorship are insufficient

  • politics and law

A set of guidelines for EU Council Presidencies were agreed. Sadly they do not go far enough to ensure that future Presidencies will be free from sponsorship. foodwatch will not stop putting the pressure on Member States to go beyond the guidelines and renounce private sponsorship.

Over 65,000 people joined foodwatch, Corporate Europe Observatory and Climáximo in condemning the sponsorship used by the Portuguese and asking for clear guidelines to ban the future use of private sponsorship for EU Presidencies.

Looking at the agreed guidelines, Member States are clearly unable to disassociate themselves from corporate interests and continue to put the reputation of the EU at risk. Transparency on who sponsors are and the award criteria, subject-matter and benefits are only  “encouraged, at their discretion”. This is deeply disappointing. The Slovenian Presidency, which takes over the helm on 1/7/21, has released a list of seven partners for their Presidency including alcoholic beverages and juices, paper manufacturers and cyber security companies and more are expected.

Guidelines were watered down

The guidelines that have been agreed were discussed in the Council’s Working Party on information for over one year. What should have been a simple process to protect the reputation of the EU was politically sensitive and subject to many amendments and watering down. The final agreed guidelines will be issued as guidance now by the General Secretariat of the Council.

The guidelines are the result of a complaint led by foodwatch to the European Ombudsman following the sponsorship of the Romanian Presidency in 2019 by soft drinks giant Coca-Cola. The complaint concluded in June 2020 with the EU Ombudsman noting that: “as the Presidency is part of the Council, its activities are likely to be perceived by the wider European public as being linked to the Council and the EU as a whole. As such, the use of sponsorship by the Presidency entails reputational risks which the Council should address. The Ombudsman therefore recommended that, to mitigate those risks, the Council should provide guidance to the Member States on the issue of sponsorship of the Presidency.”

Suzy Sumner, Head of the Brussels Office
The decision on the guidelines comes after more than a year of discussion and watering down– and it still does not manage to ban sponsorship. It really should not be so difficult to stop these corporate deals.
Suzy Sumner Campaigner at foodwatch

Keeping an eye on the French presidency 

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. foodwatch France has already written a letter in February 2021 to President Macron, asking him to commit to a sponsorship-free French Presidency, neither through donations in money nor in kind. We are still waiting for an official response but we will be keeping up the pressure – watch this space!