Monday, October 22, 2012

Snus showdown: Sweden v. Malta – EU tobacco directive crashes and burns

If you are obsessed with EU news like I am you could not have missed last week’s big headline. EU Health Commissioner John Dalli resigned as a report from the European Anti-Fraud Office showed he was aware of a bribery attempt to change the new Tobacco directive to allow for the sale of Swedish snus (A Scandinavian form of tobacco that is like chew, but not quite - you just pop it under your lip and drool tarry gross drool instead) throughout Europe.

And then things go a little crazy. And the whole EU experiment – which functions despite a trillion cultural clashes – shows just how different all those little nation states are.

At first I thought Dalli was being sensible. The first reports said he resigned when shown the report so as not to tarnish the office and to focus on clearning his name.

But then? Then all hell broke loose.

The story being told in Sweden is this: Swedish Match, a Swedish tobacco company, was offered the chance to make the whole snus ban go away for the sum of about 60 million Euros, 10 million to be paid up front, 50 million after the ban went away. Swedish Match said no and reported the attempted bribe to the Ani-Fraud group.

And then, supposedly, the following happened:

 Dalli spoke up and said ‘No, no no’ this was not what happened at all.

First of all he didn’t even resign he was forced out by EC President Barroso.

Second, he said that the Swedish tobacco and politicians set his acquaintance up and asked about being able to pay to change the directive. That this is really a big scandal set up by Swedish tobacco to throw off the directive.

Now I know I am way too Swedish at this point – but bribery is soooo not a part of the Swedish business world. Not even a little bit. Unless it considered inescapable in regions of the world that are considered ‘too backwards to be democratic.’

Swedish business prides itself on being honest and competitive.

There is no way I could picture a bunch of Swedish politicians and business men approaching a Maltese business man and saying ‘How much do we have to pay to make this EU directive go away’

It would go against one of the key principles Sweden expects of the EU – that it is honest and democratic.

And this is when I started having HUGE question marks about Dalli.

Then there were the break-ins at anti-tobacco lobby offices where only the offices working on the Tobacco directive were robbed of their computers and documents. Many are blaming this on a huge EU conspiracy, but the first thought I had was ‘Aha, this was a pay to play operation.’ Not saying that is the case, but really? The EU breaking into lobbyist groups? Damn, am I becoming too blue-eyed despite my hazel roots? My first thought was that everyone was getting rid of the evidence.

At the end of the day, the best thing the EU can do is what it has done. Distance itself from Dalli and Swedish Match.

Unfortunately the tobacco directive cannot pass without independent review – for everyone’s sake.

Personally, I am not a fan of snus and find the ban to be a reasonable measure. I know Swedes LOVE snus and feel it has a lot of benefits, but it is just like every other tobacco product in that it is highly addictive and the tobacco companies make huge profits selling addictive goods to addicts.

BUT due to the controversy, new people need to make this decision, so that there can be NO doubt of the honesty and backbone of the EU Health Commission.


  1. I'd be more inclined to believe the side that reported the bribery in any case.

    There have been several instances of suspected bribery in the swedish arms industry recently, but nothing proven.

  2. You talked about the moral dilemma of buying eggs a while ago, they brought that up on Plus the other day :)

  3. Hi Youma, thanks for the heads up! And I have really enjoyed reading thru all of your comments even on my old posts, and hope to find some time to sit back and give a thought out response when I get have a minute. Which is hopefully soon....