Press Release 08.01.2020

European Ombudsman calls for guidance on commercial sponsorship of EU Presidencies

foodwatch: No more contracts with commercial sponsors!

  • Ombudsman supports foodwatch complaint on corporate sponsorship: EU Presidencies have to be “neutral and impartial”
  • Commercial sponsorship poses “reputational risks to the EU”
  • foodwatch: German Presidency must be the first EU Presidency to implement the Ombudsman's recommendation in July 2020

The Ombudsman of the European Union has called for stricter rules on commercial sponsorship of the EU Presidency. In a reply to a complaint by the consumer organisation foodwatch International, the Ombudsman recommended “that the Council issue guidance to Member States on the issue of sponsorship of the Presidency to mitigate the reputational risks to the EU.” The Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly made it clear that “the Presidency is part of the Council, and must operate in a neutral and impartial manner”. In making this statement, the Ombudsman also rejected as "maladministration" the Council's position that it was not responsible for the commercial sponsorship of a Council Presidency. 

foodwatch International welcomed the Ombudsman’s reply. Thilo Bode, Director of the independent consumer organisation, said: “The Ombudsman made an unambiguous statement: blatant corporate sponsorship is simply unacceptable – no matter where or at what type of EU meeting. If an average European citizen sees the EU flag next to the logo of Coca-Cola, BMW or Google – there is only one message that comes out: corporate influence inside the European Union. It is now time to step up to the responsibility and adopt clear rules on financial transparency and independence of Presidencies. We need to put an end to corporate sponsorship! The upcoming German Presidency should make this one of their top priorities.”

foodwatch announced it will keep a close eye on all sponsoring activities especially of the upcoming German presidency. In 2019, foodwatch criticised Coca-Cola's partnership with the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. In an open letter the consumer organisation called on the then President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, and the Romanian Prime Minister to immediately stop Coca-Cola's partnership with the Romanian EU-Presidency. foodwatch insisted on the need for clear rules for future Presidencies in order to ensure that potential conflicts of interest are effectively and transparently avoided. After receiving inadequate responses, foodwatch took the case to the European Ombudsman. The Council of the European Union eventually admitted that the Presidency is part of its responsibility but argued that it was only responsible for events that happened in Brussels, in the premises of the Council even – not for events in the Member States. The Ombudsman however has now made clear that such a distinction between different activities “is not perceptible or relevant to the wider public.”

Since making this complaint via the Ombudsman, there has been large support from the European Parliament to get rules in place for the Council Presidencies. On October 22 2019 the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Council adopting guidelines in order to promote the financial transparency and independency of the Presidencies.