Amid allegations of bribery and threats of legal action against the European Commission, the controversy surrounding the former EU health commissioner from Malta, John Dalli, has become an unwelcome distraction for budget discussions in Brussels, Researchblogs claims.
According to Dalli, his departure may halt progress on the Tobacco Products Directive to introduce stricter requirements on cigarette packaging and flavouring, which was approaching its final stages but may now have to begin again in 2015. The mystery surrounding these events has been further fuelled by the fact that OLAF’s report has not been made public, and also by a report from three anti-tobacco lobbying agencies of targeted break-ins at their offices in Brussels within 48 hours of the resignation.
But perhaps most concerning for those in the EU capital is the announcement by Dalli at a press conference on 24 October that he may pursue legal action. “From Mr Barroso, I want vindication of my name,” said Dalli, who said he will be forming a plan of action including legal recourse.
So what is “Dalligate” likely to mean for policymakers approaching the final stages of crucial budget negotiations in Brussels?
The scandal could not have come at a worse time for the Commission, as it attempts to defend its proposals for spending from 2014 to 2020 against cuts being suggested by member states. The Horizon 2020 research budget, which the Commission has set at €80 billion, is under threat from countries arguing it needs to be reduced to €60bn in line with austerity.
The outcome of this debate is largely in the hands of the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, but the Commission must be on hand to support its proposal and advocate spending for research. It must also be seen as a trusted partner by ministers, to warrant an increase in spending as national budgets are being cut across the board.
The events of “Dalligate” mean the Commission could now be defending itself and its budget against the Council and Parliament on two fronts—a political and a moral one. This could prove costly, both for the future of the Commission and for the future of research in Europe, Researchbolgs speculates.