Inside Story

How Big Tobacco’s divide-and-conquer strategy exposed the EU’s flaws

Unlike Australia, the European Union buckled on plain packaging in the face of fierce lobbying, writes James Panichi. Still not satisfied, the tobacco industry sought to delay new regulations, exposing problems within the EU bueaucracy

James Panichi 14 October 2013 5545 words

From Peppi’s Kiosk to the European Commission: the man at the centre of the controversy, former EU commissioner John Dalli. EU

Updated 16 October 2013

FORGET Brussels – Sliema is where the European Union’s internal problems are on show. That’s right, Sliema. The peninsula is a short ferry ride from Malta’s capital, Valletta, and it’s the bustling centre of the small country’s restaurant district. Expats like to live there, locals complain about the traffic and people say the food isn’t too bad. It’s also the backdrop of the European Union’s most damaging scandal in recent years.

Overlooking a bay on Sliema’s north shore is Peppi’s Kiosk, a family-run pizzeria and grill that was once popular for its date-cakes. Silvio Zammit, the owner, is also popular – although he tends to attract international anti-corruption investigators rather than foodies. Last year, in fact, officials from the office of the European Union’s top prosecutor travelled over 1800 kilometres from Brussels to raid Peppi’s, interrogate Zammit and examine his computer. They didn’t find much, but the storm the investigation unleashed means the kiosk will indeed go down in history.

The sprawling saga has fascinated Europe for over a year and given the world a new term, Dalligate, after one of the figures at the centre of the affair. It has also come to represent everything critics believe is wrong with how Europe is governed. It features shadowy lobbyists, a bitter turf war within the European Union’s executive, crusading politicians feuding with public servants, and the mystery of just who said what to whom in Sliema. Add to that a languid lunch in Portugal involving a fiery Italian prosecutor and an EU official moonlighting as a lobbyist and you start to get a sense that for once the “-gate” suffix may actually be worthy of the scandal it denotes.

Dalligate centres on the contentious tobacco legislation that came up for a vote in the European Parliament in October. In a major setback for advocates for smoking reform, Europe’s parliamentarians voted to water down an already watered-down directive (EU-speak for a bill) that would have made life difficult for the tobacco industry in one of its largest and most lucrative markets.

While that’s just one victory for the industry in a long war of attrition, the story of exactly what happened in Sliema will be worked over by courts, commentators and politicians for years to come. And the name of wily Maltese politician John Dalli, who was both the victim and the beneficiary of the European Union’s lax standards of governance, will live on as shorthand for Europe’s institutional weaknesses.

What’s more, if a group of campaigning parliamentarians gets its way, Dalligate may yet bring the powerful European Commission to its knees.

WHEN the European Parliament is in full swing, its labyrinthine headquarters in Brussels comes alive. While other European institutions tend to attract dour Eurocrats, the lunchtime mood in the parliamentary canteen can be boisterous and upbeat. Interns in ill-fitting suits mix happily with some 6000 political staffers from across the European Union, discussing the finer points of their bosses’ complex legislative work before heading back to the office.

After spending a few weeks there I started to notice a certain swagger – a sense that people around here feel like they own the place. And strange as that may sound, it’s what European politics comes down to: the ability to claim legitimacy. The other European institutions in Brussels – the Commission and the Council – may have the power to make or break legislation, but only Europarliamentarians, or MEPs, can claim to have a mandate from the people. Everyone else is appointed by the clubby deals that have dominated Europe since the Yalta Conference in 1945. That, at least, is the usual shtick of the people milling around the light-filled corridors of parliament.

The 766 MEPs from across EU member countries gather in transnational political groupings, meaning that their work is usually driven by ideology rather than national solidarity. They are under no obligation to support – or even be polite about – their governments back home. The debate on the floor is real and often lively, creating plenty of headaches for an army of interpreters.

Whatever the political differences among the MEPs, most of them have one thing in common: they have been contacted by tobacco industry lobbyists. Perhaps as a result, many have something else in common: they oppose tougher tobacco controls. In fact, a strategic document used by Philip Morris International and seen by Inside Story breaks all MEPs down into red and green: red being those in favour of tobacco reform, green those against it. And when you flick through the document it’s hard not to be struck by just how much green there is.

“The tobacco lobby has had a 100 per cent success here,” according to Ingeborg Graessle, an influential German Christian Democrat MEP who doggedly supported the tobacco legislation as it wove its way through parliamentary committees. Just days before the vote on the tobacco legislation, she took me through the documents in her cluttered office and told me she was pessimistic about the bill’s fate. “I admire the Australian system: they had the courage to do the right thing against tobacco.”

Graessle had good reason to fear the influence of the tobacco lobby. The industry spent substantial sums of money to scuttle this legislation. The Guardian, which was the first to see the Philip Morris strategy, claimed that the company had employed 161 people to fight the Tobacco Products Directive, or TPD – a bill designed to harmonise and strengthen the often-disparate tobacco laws of Europe’s twenty-eight member states. Philip Morris rejects that claim, saying it has the equivalent of nine full-time employees in Brussels – a figure which is itself disputed. Anti-tobacco groups estimate the number of lobbyists employed by the company at closer to seventy.

Between 2011 and 2012, when the directive was being drafted, 31 per cent of MEPs – or almost 240 – met with Philip Morris at least once. The Philip Morris document is revealing but not surprising: it’s what you would expect from a well-run lobbying campaign. And it’s just one of the four largest tobacco organisations working against the reforms.

Whether these meetings are formal or informal doesn’t really matter: some EU politicians believe they are under no obligation to disclose their dealings with lobbyists so they often simply don’t bother. It’s for this reason that the extent of the contact between MEPs and the industry revealed by the Philip Morris document is newsworthy.

“The leaked Philip Morris document has been a real eye-opener,” says Olivier Hoedeman from Corporate Europe Observatory, a Brussels NGO known by its catchy acronym CEO. “How many lobbyists they have put on the case and also how many MEPs they have been able to have meetings with… It has been shocking to see.”

CEO reckons the lobbying effort paid off. The group combed through the amendments to the tobacco bill put forward by MEPs in parliamentary committees and noticed how several of them were cut-and-pasted from tobacco lobby documents. “A lot of the MEPs working within those committees appeared to have been influenced by the tobacco industry and wanted to weaken the proposed directive,” Hoedeman says.

And while there is no doubt the bill approved by parliament in October is stronger than the mosaic of national tobacco laws it will replace, the new legislation is the silver lining for an industry that campaigned so vigorously against the dark clouds of much tougher regulation. The TPD recommended that 75 per cent of the surface of cigarette packs be set aside for graphic pictorial health warnings (the gruesome photos most Australian smokers are now familiar with); parliament eventually agreed to 65 per cent.

Parliament rejected outright the proposed ban on “slim” cigarettes – which appeal to younger smokers – although it did agree to a ban of “flavoured” tobacco. Menthol cigarettes, which remain popular in some eastern European countries, were granted a five-year reprieve. On the issue of electronic cigarettes – the tobacco enhalers known as e-cigarettes – the industry fared well. The bill had wanted the battery-powered devices regulated more tightly and given a medical classification (relegating them to pharmacies), but MEPs voted against that. Parliament did impose restrictions on e-cigarette sponsorship and advertising.

Now it all comes down to whether Europe’s super-Senate – the Council, representing health ministers from EU member states – will approve or amend the TPD before the next parliamentary elections, scheduled for May 2014. “Ministers from across Europe have already got an agreement on the table,” says Linda McAvan, a British Labour MEP I spoke to before the vote. As parliament’s “rapporteur” on the Tobacco Products Directive, McAvan is responsible for shepherding the legislation from the committees through to the parliamentary plenary and beyond. “If the positive measures of the bill are to get through, then we need the law to be agreed this side of the elections.”

In spite of the graphic packaging warnings and the bans on cigarettes targeted at young people, anti-tobacco campaigners say there is little to celebrate. The reason is simple: they know what was in the early drafts of the TPD, and they knew what went missing long before parliament saw it.

THE European Parliament can’t initiate legislation. For that, you have to be in the building where I set up my laptop on most weekdays. The European Commission is about a fifteen-minute walk from parliament and it’s both the executive of the European Union and the place where legislation is formulated. It also has free Wi-Fi. Not surprisingly, it’s usually a hive of activity.

Presiding at the Commission are twenty-eight commissioners (we’d call them ministers) who each represent one of the twenty-eight EU member states. Many commissioners turn out to be capable and enthusiastic campaigners for European policy – even when it involves (as it usually does) taking on recalcitrant member states. But sometimes commissioners are former senior national MPs who have fallen out of favour in their home countries and who spend most of their time plotting a comeback.

John Dalli was a mixture of both. Back in Malta he had been the prominent Nationalist politician who contested the leadership of his party in 2004 and lost. He was then appointed foreign minister, but the Bill Hayden solution lasted only a few months, and he resigned after being named in a report on kickbacks. The allegation proved to be a fabrication and its author was later jailed, but it was a major setback for Dalli.

His relationship with prime minister Lawrence Gonzi had never been good and the Labour Party opposition despised him. But in a country where being able to marshal even small clusters of votes can keep you politically relevant, Dalli still had some clout. By offering him the job of Malta’s commissioner in Brussels in 2010, Gonzi was giving him exile without stigma. Both Dalli’s supporters and detractors would feel vindicated and could return to their real passion: undermining each other by modifying John Dalli’s entry on Wikipedia.

Dalli certainly wasn’t the first commissioner to arrive in Brussels with political baggage, but by all accounts he was able to hit the ground running in the health and consumer policy portfolio. And he needed to master his brief fast, because by then his department (known by its unappealing acronym DG-SANCO) was in the early stages of a politically sensitive review of the Tobacco Products Directive, back before the tobacco companies had begun to ratchet up their lobbying.

The TPD, a rickety piece of legislation put in place some ten years ago, allows the disparate tobacco policies of the European Union’s member states to coexist. It was due for an overhaul and it needed to set a standard to which all member states could adhere. News filtering out of DG-SANCO in 2010 gave health lobbies and anti-tobacco campaigners reason to express cautious optimism. The directive appeared set to tackle two of the most sensitive areas: packaging and flavoured cigarettes.

At the time, only ten of the existing twenty-seven EU member states had health warnings and, when they did, the size of those warnings usually varied from 35 per cent to 50 per cent of the pack’s surface. For the European Union this was a problem, and not just on health grounds. Free trade within the union allows for the free movement of goods and services among member countries – something which different packaging laws interfere with.

The proposed directive that eventually emerged was undoubtedly a major setback for the tobacco industry – it would have mandated a 75 per cent “graphic” warning – but it could have been worse. Publicly available documents reveal that what health officials were calling the Australian model – plain packaging – had initially been on the table. Yet while the bill’s impact assessment acknowledged that plain packaging would have achieved policy objectives more effectively, it was deleted from the bill at the last moment. Insiders suggest that with the issue still before Australia’s High Court, member states saw it as too much of a headache.

The directive would also have imposed an EU-wide ban on slim, menthol and “flavoured” cigarettes while closing a few loopholes on other tobacco products, including something you chew called Snus – a brand which would feature prominently in Dalligate.

On paper it was all coming together. But through painstaking FOI work, non-government organisations have recently been able to gain an insight into the flurry of activity that was taking place behind closed doors – the actiuvity that significantly weakened the legislation before it reached parliament. What became clear is that the review of the TPD not only unleashed a bitter turf war that went all the way to the top of the Commission’s public service, but also saw breaches of EU guidelines about relationships with lobbyists.

GUIDING how European institutions deal with the tobacco industry is a global public health treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. This World Health Organization agreement is designed to limit, among other things, the influence of tobacco lobbyists on legislation. Article 5.3 states that governments should act to “protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry…”

An official in the office of the Commissioner for Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration, which deals with transparency, assured me that Article 5.3 covers all portfolios of the Commission. What that means, according to the official, is that interactions with the tobacco lobby must be contained and meticulously reported. And this appears to be exactly what DG-SANCO was doing. Emails reveal the health department was declining to meet with tobacco lobbyists ahead of the consultation period and was reporting the interactions it did have.

Then things became more complicated. The health mandarins started receiving correspondence from the very top: the Secretariat General (a rough equivalent of our Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet), headed by Commission president José Manuel Barroso. While DG-SANCO was sticking to the letter of Article 5.3, emails to and from Barroso’s office and department reveal that his staff were meeting regularly with tobacco lobbyists and committing to passing its requests on to DG-SANCO. Most of these meetings didn’t appear on the lobbying register.

“Marianne, I met Antoine Lefranc for coffee,” emails John Watson, a senior bureaucrat in Barroso’s department, referring to a Philip Morris lobbyist. In an earlier message, also obtained through FOI, Watson says he is keeping someone at DG-SANCO in the loop. A Brussels lawyer called Spyros Pappas (lobbyists in this town are usually lawyers) signs off his correspondence to a Barroso staffer with the affectionate Je t’embrace – I hug you.

The interaction comes to a head when the chief of Barroso’s department, Catherine Day, fires a warning shot across the bows of the health department. Writing to DG-SANCO’s chief, Paola Testori-Coggi, she demands that the bill be delayed on both legal and free-trade grounds. “Given these substantial points and taking into account the political sensitivity of the matter, we do not believe it is appropriate to launch the inter-service consultation,” Day says.

Given that all of the concerns mentioned by Day had already been addressed, officials at DG-SANCO read the note as an attempt to delay and weaken the bill. But Testori-Coggi appears to have caved in, agreeing to Day’s request to water down a number of provisions. The plain packaging wanted by health officials (and which Australia’s EU ambassador Brendan Nelson had championed) was knocked out of the bill.

Perhaps surprisingly, Commissioner Dalli wasn’t cc-ed in on any of this correspondence. In one of the most politically sensitive bureaucratic stoushes in the Commission’s recent history, Europe’s health commissioner – the man who presided over a department that had desperately tried to keep itself out of the lobbyists’ reach – was nowhere to be seen.

Which is why, when Barroso publicly demanded (and obtained) Dalli’s resignation on 16 October last year for inappropriate dealings with the tobacco industry, it came as a bolt out of the blue. It was the first time an individual commissioner had been forced to resign and it wasn’t clear why it had happened. Down in the newsroom people began running around and shouting into their phones.

BY THE time Giovanni Kessler fronted a parliamentary committee in June 2013, he was fighting for his survival. The feisty, silver-headed chief of the European Anti-Fraud Office, OLAF (Office de Lutte Anti-Fraude), had been on the defensive ever since his investigation into Dalligate was used as the basis for the sacking of the health commissioner. But by the time OLAF’s report was leaked in Malta, Kessler was facing a storm of criticism.

The Italian’s testimony before the committee was combative and unapologetic. Commission president Barroso had asked him to examine John Dalli’s dealings with lobbyists and he carried out an investigation that eventually led to an arrest in Malta (though not of John Dalli). Kessler told MEPs his conscience was clear.

Kessler’s problem, though, was that there was no smoking gun in his final report on Dalli – in fact, there was no gun of any description. His earlier suggestion that he had uncovered “unambiguous circumstantial evidence,” a comment that led to some mirth among journalists, turned out to be spot-on: the evidence against Dalli was unambiguously circumstantial. While Barroso claimed to have sacked Dalli because of Kessler’s findings, it was clear that the findings wouldn’t have been enough to justify his sacking.

OLAF’s supervisory committee was aghast at the shortcomings of the Dalligate report, publishing an avalanche of criticism that pointed to a much deeper cultural malaise. At the top of a very long list of accusations was the suggestion that the watchdog had carried out investigations without “legal bases” and that Kessler’s decision to lead the investigation himself was flawed. In short, OLAF had exceeded its authority and possibly violated people’s legal rights along the way.

The European Parliament didn’t mince words either. Shortly after grilling Kessler, it released a scathing assessment of OLAF’s professional conduct, accusing the anti-corruption body of neglecting its core responsibilities in favour of the high-profile hobby horses of its director-general.

In a parliamentary democracy, no public servant could receive such a comprehensive bollocking and live to tell the tale. But the European Union isn’t a parliamentary democracy, and in most cases commissioners don’t lose much sleep over what parliament thinks. Their bosses are the twenty-eight heads of government who appoint them. Thus, Kessler – an Italian magistrate and centre-left politician – may still have enough political support to see out the rest of his term.

But Ingeborg Graessle, who is the rapporteur for OLAF’s legal powers, insists she won’t give up until Kessler has resigned. “This was not an investigation – it was an execution,” she says. “What really concerns me is that this was not a neutral investigation to look for proof or [evidence] which is not in line with this story. From the beginning [OLAF] looked for proof that was in line with the accusations made by the tobacco industry. They looked for proof that Dalli was guilty.”

People close to Kessler say the Dalli investigation was faultless and that, if anything, the politicisation of the process has come from parliament. Yet the director-general’s direct involvement in what should have been a standard investigation continues to puzzle MEPs. The prosecutor travelled both to Malta, where he raided Peppi’s, and to Portugal, where he interrogated a witness who later claimed to have drunk too much wine over lunch before signing a statement (a recollection that OLAF firmly denies).

In Kessler’s defence, it should be said that the evidence gathered against Dalli may indeed have been circumstantial, but it was nonetheless damaging. Dalli may not have committed a crime, but the OLAF report shows the commissioner had been dealing with tobacco lobbyists with the same lack of transparency as those who had sacked him.

HAD I been John Dalli’s media adviser I would have started looking for the fire alarm about five minutes into his post-dismissal press conference. An emergency evacuation of the International Press Association may have prevented him from telling a full house of reporters that he didn’t realise a lawyer he had met in Malta to discuss tobacco legislation was a lobbyist. It was a staggering claim.

If nothing else, though, the numerous interviews Dalli has given since his dismissal, coupled with the OLAF report and some strong reporting by the Maltese media, has shed a little light on Dalligate. Which brings us back to Snus.

Usually described as a chewing tobacco, Snus is actually different – mainly because you don’t have to spit it out. It’s a moist powder tobacco that users keep under their top lip for extended periods. Needless to say, it’s banned in the European Union – everywhere, that is, except a country with a strong Snus tradition, Sweden.

Dalli’s department had been considering what to do with Snus – whether to place further restrictions on it or to snuff it out all together. It was a tiny issue at the margins of something much bigger, but at Peppi’s the plight of Swedish Match – the makers of Snus – had caught the attention of Silvio Zammit.

Zammit had been a “canvasser” for John Dalli – someone, in Maltese parlance, who plays the vital grassroots role of rounding up votes among Malta’s population of just over 400,000 people. As a result, Zammit had real access to Dalli. Phone records obtained controversially by OLAF show the two talked regularly.

If lobbying is getting paid for access to decision-makers, then Zammit was sitting on an unrealised asset. That was about to change. In October 2011, the owner of Peppi’s made his way to Stockholm to tell Swedish Match he had something to offer.

What follows is a complex web of meetings and phone calls involving Zammit and a young lawyer he appears to have enlisted, by the name of Gayle Kimberley. She, too, had become a lobbyist, even though she was on personal leave from her permanent position with the European Union.

The Maltese media has reconstructed all the twists and turns of Zammit and Kimberley’s work for Snus, but what really matters is what Zammit did next. OLAF claims that in early 2012 Zammit told Swedish Match that for €60 million (A$85 million) he could get Dalli to overturn the ban on Snus being sold in Europe – thus expanding the product’s market. Swedish Match took this as an attempt to solicit a bribe and reported it to none other than Catherine Day, the top public servant in Barroso’s department. By May 2012 Day had referred the matter to OLAF, which then took on the inquiry with unusual zeal.

Gayle Kimberley is the lawyer whom OLAF head Giovanni Kessler travelled to Portugal to interview (with a more or less languid lunch, according to whom you believe). To date, Kimberley hasn’t been charged with a criminal offence in Malta and EU sources tell me her job isn’t at risk. In fact, revolving doors of this kind are remarkably common in Brussels.

Kessler was able to establish Zammit’s role in the affair – although Zammit, not being an EU employee, was outside OLAF’s remit. As for Dalli, OLAF wasn’t able to prove that the commissioner knew of or had instigated Zammit’s approaches to Swedish Match. Without that, OLAF didn’t have much at all. Yet on the strength of its report – the findings of which were never communicated to John Dalli – the commissioner was sacked.

There’s no doubt that Dalli had been cavalier in his dealings with the tobacco industry. Yet it had been Barroso’s department, not DG-SANCO, that had insisted the tobacco bill be watered down. It’s still unclear why Dalli had to go.

IF YOU’RE planning to shop in Avenue Louise, touch base with your bank manager first. It’s the trendiest stretch of real estate in Brussels and the price tags of the clothes in the windows aren’t for the faint-hearted. But it’s not just the fashion that lures people here: the Belgian chocolates on sale are works of art.

If you head south by tram, you’ll see Avenue Louise becoming more residential. It’s still upmarket, but the cafés and boutiques gradually give way to convenience stores and travel agencies, and the people walking in and out of lobbies actually live in the buildings. On rubbish collection day pedestrians step over white plastic bags left on the footpath.

It’s around here that Japan Tobacco International, or JTI, has its headquarters. I buzz the security door and am let in by a PA who offers me something to drink. I detect a slight hint of cigarette smoke in the air as I am shown in to an empty conference room. (I am early for this meeting.) I look out over a glorious autumn morning in Brussels and notice a New Zealand–designed trampoline in someone’s backyard.

Thierry Lebeaux is a courteous, middle-aged Frenchman who introduces himself as the head of JTI’s European affairs office in Brussels. He tells me he has worked with the company for four years and before that he had been a public affairs consultant in Brussels for fifteen years. In short, he is the experienced top lobbyist of a tobacco company that has been particularly assertive in putting forward its arguments.

He tells me he is delighted to have a chat ahead of the parliamentary vote and assures me no topic is off the table – including Dalligate. “Our key point [with the TPD] is that it will not deliver on the [health] objectives,” he says. “The unintended consequences of the directive will be devastating for the industry, while the prevalence of smoking will not be reduced.” It’s not a novel line from an industry representative.

“So, we think we have things to say to the legislators,” Lebeaux says. “We would like to be heard; we would like to have the opportunity to express our point of view and we hope they will be able to listen to us.” On the question of the lobbying process being unethical, Lebeaux says people misunderstand what lobbyists do.

“What is lobbying?” he asks. “It’s basically when you want to change something and the decision belongs to others. So what you have to do is convince others – those who have the power and the competence to make the decisions – that your point of view is right.”

As for the issue of the lack of transparency in the lobbying process, he hands me a copy of a letter sent by Catherine Day to a Brussels NGO. In it, Barroso’s top public servant says that the guidelines for the implementation of Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control contain “no specific compulsory requirements on holding meetings or the publicity of such meetings.”

In short, the message coming from the Commission’s top bureaucrat was that contact with the tobacco industry during policy formulation was both ethical and legal. What’s more, the Commission (and by implication the lobbyists) were under no obligation to disclose those meetings.

As it happened, an NGO had shown me the very same document the previous day as evidence that the Commission is all over the shop in how it deals with lobbyists. Indeed, in her correspondence Day refers to the accompanying guidelines of the Framework Convention – not Article 5.3 itself, which is binding on EU institutions. It’s a controversial interpretation and one which puts her at odds with what officials of other Commission departments told me.

Lebeaux says the tobacco lobby was on solid ground. The Commission’s top public servant had said the lobbyists could meet with the Commission unhindered and with no ethical obligation to report the meetings. It was all legal and approved by the Commission.

And the fact that MEPs had cut-and-pasted legislative amendments provided by the tobacco industry? Other lobbyists I spoke to say that it happens all the time, in all industries. “Of course we would prefer that nine different MEPs present the same amendment as a group, rather than as individuals,” one tobacco lobbyist told me. “But this is what the job is about – putting forward solutions to complex problems.”

BY THE time MEPs gathered in Strasbourg to vote on the TPD, the debate was being framed less by health considerations than by the political reality of Dalligate. The tobacco industry may have won unprecedented influence, but with EU institutions revealed to be unclear about their dealing with its lobbyists, a delay or a defeat of the bill would have lead to a public outcry.

Right up until the last moment, both sides felt they were in with a real change of success and there was a last-minute flurry of activity. Just a few before the vote the Irish government, which has become Europe’s most vocal proponent of tobacco reform, launched a last-ditch effort to tell MEPs that they were not alone if they decided to vote in favour of the tougher measures included in the bill.

In private, though, the Irish conceded they were worried. The PPE – Europe’s Christian democrats – had agreed to bring the size of health warnings down from 75 per cent to 50 per cent. If adopted, the amendment would have forced countries like Belgium, which currently have health warnings on 65 per cent of the packet’s surface, to weaken their legislation. The Commission let it be known it was willing to go down to 65 per cent, but not a percentage point lower. The MEPs must have listened.

Yet by now health bureaucrats back at DG-SANCO would be forgiven for asking themselves what went wrong. The TPD they designed had included plain packaging and graphic warnings even above the 75 per cent mark which was eventually debated by parliament – both of these backed up by strong medical evidence. Yet internal manoeuvers at the Commission itself, coupled with some parliamentary horse-trading, eventually cut their bill back to a shadow of its former self.

John Dalli, meanwhile, will be fighting his dismissal in a Belgian court – and the trial is likely to bring to the surface even more of Europe’s confused governance structures. He is also facing a renewed OLAF investigation into trips he made to the Caribbean while commissioner, something which will complicate matters further and deepen his feud (and that of parliament) with OLAF.

The former commissioner now appears to have built bridges with his old Labour Party foes and has been appointed to oversee the restructuring of Malta’s hospital. Since returning home he has kept a low profile, allowing his replacement and fellow Maltese Tonio Borg to focus on the TPD.

And as for Peppi’s in Sliema, people on Malta tell me it’s still open for business. •