Legal reform

Presidency sponsorship guidelines watered down at last minute

Previous-day version of textual proposal shows expansive language removed from finally adopted guidelines.

A last-minute amendment of the so-called “Guidance for Presidency best practice on the use of sponsorship” was watered down a week before the meeting in which it was adopted. This has emerged from documents disclosed by the Council today, after this blog filed an access to documents request for documents pertaining to the meeting in question.

As the preparatory documents, which are now available on the Council register, show, a textual proposal circulated a week before the meeting was amended the next day. The final textual proposal, adopted at the meeting, scrapped expansive language from the text. Thus, a call to avoid “any actual or perceived conflict of interest […]” became “any conflict of interest” (see textual passage shown above). While the nuancing adjectives omitted from the final text may seem trivial, they would have offered a broader understanding of the notion of a conflict of interest, to include a cautionary principle not only for directly demonstrable harm, but also publicly perceived harm.

It remains unclear which member state or institutional representative is behind the textual revision.

The draft guidelines, which were eventually adopted on 29 June in the Council’s preparatory Working Party on Information, offer a set of non-binding best practices for incoming Presidencies, following embarrassing press coverage during the 2019 Romanian Presidency. The latter’s decision to attract sponsorship by Coca Cola sparked widespread outrage and questions whether the sugary fizzy-drink producer was seeking to buy influence on health and consumer protection policy through its sponsorship.

Upon adoption, the guidelines were immediately denounced by NGOs as grossly insufficient, with the Council defending itself using the argument that it does not have powers to regulate organisational aspects of the office of the Presidency. Today’s disclosure suggests that the guidelines are even weaker than what was initially intended for adoption.

This article was revised to reflect that the amendment to the proposal text was made not a day, but a week ahead of the meeting.