Private companies, associations and individuals often engage with senior political players in Brussels with such exclusivity that it is a source for raised eyebrows. One such case involves a femme fatale, a bespectacled MEP, an influential ageing roué and a former International Monetary Fund (IMF) boss.
All four are part of what some in Brussels describe as an ongoing smokescreen by a privately-owned Swiss security firm, SICPA, as it pulls out all the stops to win a public tender for Europe’s track and trace system, potentially worth tens of millions of taxpayers’ money.
Banknotes printed with SICPA’s security ink already line the wallets of most Europeans – making their power and connections to the upper echelons of the EU unquestionable. The company provides ‘secure global traceability solutions’, though not without a reputation for dodgy dealings, in Brazil and Kenya. The Commission is putting the final touches to a system to combat cigarette smuggling by tracking it from A to Z and tracing such products should they fall into the wrong hands.
Despite its renowned and existing contracts, SICPA remains a company without a single representative accredited on the EU’s Transparency Register. But is the company lobbying by fair means? The answer lies with our Franco-Swiss alliance, a quartet of characters acting rather unsubtly in favour of SICPA both on the sidelines, and inside the core of Europe’s policy-making process.
Gilles Pargneaux is an MEP, Vice-Chair of the Health Committee and Chairman of the working group on tobacco interference. In this capacity, he has hosted numerous gatherings rolling out the red carpet not just for SICPA chiefs, but for former company and trade associations with close ties to SICPA, an issue not unnoticed by Euractiv.
On 2 March this year, Mr. Pargneaux hosted a working group on track and trace, and the only industry supplier invited was SICPA, as well as some of the service providers in its circle of friends – despite there being plenty of other providers on the market who may have advocated for different approaches. During this meeting, SICPA allies could cosy up to Commission decision-maker Dr. Andrzej Rys from DG SANTE.
Even stranger than fiction is the involvement of a certain Pauline Delpech, daughter of the singer Michel Delpech, who appears to have campaigned on SICPA’s behalf since 2013.
Delpech has a personal axe to grind. In 2016, the year her father died of cancer, she set up an NGO called “PUNPAT” (For a new anti-tobacco policy) with the aim to “leave smokers and retailers alone, focus on manufacturers”. She has used her NGO to favour SICPA’s bid for this contract by mounting what has been described as “a smear campaign to exclude other players from the tender”. She has, per her Twitter, sent letters to all the Ministers of Health of European countries. Sources in Brussels report that she has escalated this and sent a letter directly to President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker in a bid to sway him.
Using her notoriety and position as municipal representative in Paris’ 17th arrondissement, she continuously pushes SICPA’s agenda in France. Over the past four years, she has put forward amendments to favour SICPA’s system in several legislative files. Despite being a member of a small Green party, this year she managed to influence 80 MPs and high-level ministers to push the same amendment to impose SICPA as the preferred system in France. One of these members of Parliament is the recently embarrassed politician, Bruno LeRoux – a close friend of another SICPA confidante and former IMF boss, Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Over the past 18 months, Strauss-Kahn has been on a whistle-stop tour of African countries including Togo, South Sudan and Senegal. The Togolese government, to whom he is considered an advisor, recently announced that SICPA was being awarded a major contract under dubious circumstances. It was front page news in Togo, since it was a 9-year-old contract that had never been implemented, and has now been reissued without any tender or competition, at what critics say is a very high price.
The final personality is industry insider Yves Trevilly, a former Big Tobacco employee. Trevilly has been SICPA France’s Secretary General since his dismissal from his last job. He has strong connections in French political spheres after being Chef de Cabinet to a UMP Minister, with undeniably close contacts with both Delpech and Strauss-Kahn.
Thanks to the adventures of what looks like a very high-class lobbying team, and not the lobbyists and consultants we normally see engaging within the political process, SICPA continue to pursue what is truly a license to print money. It remains to be seen if Commission decision-makers can remain immune to such tactics, but at least they will not be able to deny who has paved the way.
It seems that for Brussels it’s easier to put a track and trace system in place for cigarettes than for influence.