French EU Presidency: No to Corporate Gifts!
- politics and law
From Coca-Cola branding in meeting areas, to fleets of BMW cars carrying ministers around, or DHL and Microsoft logos being plastered on EU Presidency websites - dodgy corporate deals in the six month rotating Presidency of the EU has become the norm. On 1st January 2022, the French government will kick off it’s own turn at the helm of the Council of the EU, and it is time we sent a clear message to President Emmanuel Macron to say NO to any sponsorship deals for the Council presidency. France must give a strong message to citizens and other member states that these dodgy deals have no place in our democracy!
Dear President Macron,
I am writing to ask you to rule out corporate sponsorship for the French Presidency of the European Union in 2022.
Sponsorship of EU presidencies has become very controversial in recent years. Citizens have had enough of seeing EU presidencies taking favours from corporations and multinational companies being classed as ‘partners’ in the presidencies. As you know, the European Ombudsman has highlighted the problem of “reputational risk” for the EU from these deals.
We urge the French Presidency, like the German Presidency in 2020, to say NO to any corporate sponsorship deals - this means both cash donations or donations of goods and services in kind.
Your own MEPs earlier this year asked you to be “attentive to the public’s perception” and that the French presidency “should not resort to private sponsorships”.
We call on you to clearly declare that there is no place for corporate sponsorship during the French Presidency and to urge future presidencies to do the same. In the current context of growing mistrust by citizens in the EU institutions and the problematic influence of lobbies promoting corporate interests, we urge you to stand up for public interest decision-making and democracy.
Your first name & surname, place and comment, if given (will be completed automatically)
- Emmanuel Macron, President of France
- Clément Beaune, Secretary of State to the Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs
- Xavier Lapeyre de Cabanes, Secretary General of the French Presidency
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.
In the past, 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 (January-June 2021) 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.
NGOs are worried that these guidelines will not do much to change the situation. The current Slovenian presidency (July-December 2021) has signed deals with minimum transparency about the benefits received by the sponsors. Sponsors continue to be promoted on the presidency website.
There have been mixed messages coming from the French government on this topic. Minister for Europe Clément Beaune has told Mediapart that:
“There will be no private financing of the Presidency, no sponsorship. The only debate that we are opening, and which will be conducted in a transparent manner, is whether there can be material support for specific issues. Let me give you a very concrete example: a French car manufacturer may lend electric cars for an event, because this is also one of our priorities for the climate. This is the maximum we would allow ourselves, in terms of involvement of the business world.”
This might be an attempt to confuse; afterall, goods in kind from corporations are still sponsorship!
Meanwhile Politico has reported that the so-called Renaissance delegation in the European Parliament, a group of primarily French MEPs within the Renew Europe bloc which includes members from Macron’s own En Marche party, is opposed to sponsorship deals during the presidency. The MEPs have argued that the 2022 French presidency should be “attentive to the public’s perception” and that they“should not resort” to such deals.
foodwatch France has already written a letter in February 2021 to President Macron, asking him to commit to a sponsorship-free French Presidency, by neither accepting donations in money nor in kind. We are still waiting for an official response but we will be keeping up the pressure via our new petition.
This is the easy bit!
President Macron and Minister Beaune should not accept any corporate / private sponsorship deals for the EU presidency. The Council should make sure that all essential costs of Presidencies are funded by the EU budget, and the French government should commit to paying a fair price for any services or products that they choose to purchase to supplement its presidency, in order to avoid any sense of sponsorship, favour, or conflict of interest.
The German presidency (July-December 2020) opted against signing such dodgy deals. The French government should do the same and this 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.
A joint action of:
foodwatch started the petition on 23.09.2021.