What was the nickname that Labour had for (then) Minister Dalli a while back? Johnny Cash no? This was back in the time when Dalli was a successful nationalist party heavyweight who imported the much maligned Value Added Tax and bulldozed budget after budget until Sant’s government and CET came along. That was a good 17 years ago. My oh my does time fly when you’re having fun and people do change. Dalli is far from being a nationalist party heavyweight now and this latest fall from grace will seriously test his quality as a political cat of nine lives.
Part one of this post looked at the European dimension of Dalligate – particularly the effect it has on the lobby industry and on the institutional set-up of the EU. Today’s developments deserve a little addendum before turning to the other side of the Dalligate equation that deals with matters closer to Qormi. So here is our intermezzo before part two.
An Intermezzo European Update
The Swedish paper Aftonbladet seems to have reliable information that Silvio Zammit’s price tag in order to influence new tobacco legislation in favour of “snus” was €60 million. That’s right, go make some tea… I’m here waiting with the rest of the story.
Does this change much of what we already had from the OLAF briefings and Dalli press statements? Well, yes and no. We somehow already had the feeling that Silvio Zammit was the one who initiated the contact with ESTOC (remember the RE: business in the email – the one you read here first and then read elsewhere a day later?). We now have a figure to go along with the proposal. Silvio Zammit, purportedly acting for and on behalf of Commissioner Dalli asked for 60€ in order to influence EU legislation.
Now here’s the thing. I have no problem in believing the Swedes on this – they are after all Lutherans and Lutherans never lie. They would have no interest in lying because the documents to corroborate this are in the hands of Malta’s AG and in the hands of Mr Kessler (OLAF Chief). One fact does not everything prove though. You see the problem is that Silvio Zammit emerges from this story as a cowboy amateur lobbyist (see Noel Grima on how Silvio is nowhere to be seen in the official lobby list). What he is offering is for one Commissioner – Mr Dalli – to actually influence a huge package of EU legislation.
Liars they are not (the Swedes) but stupid? Did they really believe that this vendor of fried date pastries could actually deliver the goods he was promising? It’s not like the Commissioner sits in a tiny room at the Berlaymont and cuts and pastes directives to his (or his lobbyists’ liking). Even if Zammit had obtained the go-ahead (and if Dalli were in on it) it would have been a Herculean task for the duo to convince a long line of obstacles: their own Directorate-General, other Directorate Generals during inter-service consultation for starters and later on down the line the European Parliament and the European Council when voting on the final format.
So if Zammit DID make the offer (and it is looking increasingly likely that he did) then it makes him a very, very naive go-between (I hestitate to call him a lobbyist). You never make a deal that you cannot deliver. We still have no conclusive proof that John Dalli sanctioned the offer (or even that he was aware of it) beyond OLAF’s claims of circumstantial evidence. So much for fools rushing in.
On a European level an offer such as Zammit’s would be manna for a company like Swedish Match that was at the wrong end of Tobacco consultations. Prospects did not seem to be too bright for any pro-snus legislation so their coming into possession of this bungling offer from what turns out to be a naive go-between was a blessing. This is what I meant when I wrote that the Zammit-Dalli tandem (if and when the lien is proven) could have inadvertently left too wide a door open for a lobby group to take advantage. Anybody in Swedish Match’s position would have done the same.
They did not just have one reason to do so… Zammit gave them sixty million.