Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Commission refuses access to Pat Cox’s declaration of interests

The European Commission has rejected Corporate Europe Observatory’s request to see the “Declaration of activities of Pat Cox in view of applying to the function of Special Adviser to the Commission”, stating in its letter (21st September) that it was prevented from doing so because of “personal data protection”.

CEO had asked for this document because this is what the Commission uses to assess conflicts of interest in appointments. In the case of Pat Cox, who is a paid advisor for Microsoft, Pfizer, Michelin and lobbying consultancy APCO, the document is crucial in assessing whether there might be any conflict of interest in him taking up the post of special advisor to consumer affairs Commissioner Kuneva.

We can only guess about what is in the confidential document, but it is probably simply an extensive CV. It is hard to imagine how the information in this document can be defined as sensitive personal data. The EU’s data protection rules state that documents should be released when it is “necessary […] on important public interest grounds”. CEO believes this case is in the public interest and will write to Commission President Barroso’s office (the Secretariat General) to appeal the decision.

Mr Cox stresses that he is “not a lobbyist”, but given his record, it is not very convincing. In fact there is strong evidence of Mr. Cox acting as a lobbyist, if you compare his activities to the European Commission’s definition of lobbying.

For example, in July 2005, a year after Mr. Cox left the European Parliament, the EUobserver reported that “EICTA is the first major client of Mr Cox’s Washington DC-registered lobbying firm, European Integration Solutions (EIS).” EICTA (since renamed DigitalEurope) was one of the main industry groups lobbying for US-style software patents. Mr. Cox told EU Observer that the kind of lobbying he does is not “going around knocking on MEPs’ doors” but rather meeting with industry stakeholders to “help shape their telling of the story”. In fact, Cox’s role clearly went beyond advising. In the following months, Cox regularly made statements on behalf of EICTA and he co-wrote an op-ed in Le Monde, again on behalf of EICTA.

Cox is also a member of Microsoft’s European Advisory Council and has over the last few years regularly spoken and written to defend the interests of the software giant, eg. in an op-ed in BusinessWeek, entitled Europe’s Microsoft Case Goes Too Far (2 April 2007).

In February 2007, Pharma Marketletter reported that “Pat Cox, former President of the European Parliament and now a leading lobbyist, presented a report on ‘Financing Sustainable Health Care’ to the Vice President of the European Commission, Gunter Verheugen”. This was the start of what is an on-going campaign (Initiative for Sustainable Healthcare Financing in Europe), which includes consultations with Commission officials. The campaign is sponsored by pharma giant Pfizer; Mr. Cox is a member of Pfizer’s Europe Advisory Council. There are also other examples that Mr. Cox is actively promoting Pfizer’s lobby demands, such as allowing direct advertising to consumers for pharmaceutical products.

In July 2009, Portuguese newspapers reported that “the Ex-President of the EP will lobby for the Azores in the EU”. According to the press reports, “APCO Worldwide, led by Pat Cox, former president of the European Parliament, was chosen to provide lobbying services for the Azores with the EU institutions over the next 12 months.” When we called APCO to get clarification of what Mr. Cox’s role was in this and other APCO lobbying activities, the managing director of the Brussels office told us that the Azores contract had not been signed yet and that “Cox has no involvement in it”.

Since 2006, Mr. Cox is a member of APCO Worldwide’s International Advisory Council. According to the APCO website, “APCO’s International Advisory Council is a dynamic group of former senior members of government, the media, the diplomatic corps, academia, the business community and nonprofit organizations who work hand-in-hand with APCO’s professionals to counsel clients on a broad range of issues.” Today, 22 September 2009, a spokesperson at APCO Worldwide in the US told CEO that “Mr. Cox currently does not engage directly with APCO clients.” But she could not confirm that Cox had never done so since he became a member of the International Advisory Council. And if Mr. Cox advises APCO lobbyists working for clients on issues related to EU decision-making or in other ways improves APCO’s lobbying capacity, that would qualify as lobbying under the Commission’s definitions.

The European Commission defines lobbying as “activities carried out with the objective of influencing the policy formulation and decision-making processes of the European institutions”. Mr. Cox clearly is a lobbyist, but more importantly, does his lobbying lead to conflicts of interest when he acts as a Special Adviser to the EU’s consumer Commissioner? This may not be the case if he is lobbying for the Azores government, but it is more likely if he lobbies for Pfizer, Microsoft and other large corporations with a direct interest in influencing EU consumer policy and communication to consumers. These questions are even more pressing considering that Mr. Cox is candidate to become Ireland’s next Commissioner.

Transparency around Mr. Cox’s lobby activities is a matter of public interest.

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