On 1 July 2021, Slovenia took over the Council Presidency from Portugal and decided to accept in-kind sponsorship. foodwatch has written a formal letter to the Slovenian Ambassador, Iztok Jarc, asking for clarification of how the presidency is going to ensure that potential conflicts of interest are avoided.
Almost every recent Presidency of the EU has accepted sponsorship from national or multinational companies. In 2018, for example, Austria has been sponsored by Audi and the insurance group VIG, Bulgaria by the Association of the Bulgarian Beverage Industry and BMW. Coca-Cola had already supported the Polish Presidency in 2011. The current EU Council Presidency, Slovenia, has recently signed sponsorship deals with nine companies. The main sponsor, Radeče papir nova, is a paper products company. Corporate sponsorship of the EU Council Presidency is not only a dubious and opaque practice, but also a mockery of all promises to build a democratic and citizen-friendly Europe.
Conflicts of interest need to be avoided
Before the takeover, the permanent representation of Slovenia stated in a letter to Dr. Thilo Bode, director of foodwatch International, that they will “carefully consider the possible impact of the choice of each sponsor (partner) on the reputation of the EU”, and “establish clear and transparent rules on sponsor selection.” But now, almost seven weeks later, no rules on sponsor selection were sent. In the letter of response, sent yesterday, Thilo Bode therefore ask for documentation of these rules and decisions and contracts made with the sponsorship partners.
Additionally, the Slovenian Ambassador stated, that “these sponsorships will not affect or be seen to affect any policy making decisions during our Presidency” and they “will observe closely all the activities of our sponsors to make sure that the Council's name or logo will not be used”.
But the website of the paper company, Radeče papir nova, states something completely different: “As the main partner of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU, we proudly entered a completely new role, which, in addition to great responsibility, brings us also an exceptional opportunity for even greater international recognition, promotion of our creativity, innovation, mastery and tradition in the paper industry which we cherish for 285 years already. We will make the most of the many meetings at the highest EU level to present our top solutions.”
In addition, there is a promotional video for the company featuring the council logo for the Slovenian Presidency.
We therefore ask for clarification and request the presidency to assure the public that these promotional articles linked to the formal meetings of the council will be taken offline and that this will no longer happen with any of the companies selected.
Keeping an eye on the French presidency
foodwatch will not stop putting 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 thisexample. We will now focus on France in particular, who takes over the EU Presidency in January 2022.