Chronology of the controversy about Davignon's conflict of interests

Corporate Europe Observatory, 30 March 2007

March 8th 2007: a Commission spokesman is quoted in the European Voice, stating that Davignon received no payment for his services and his role was to advise Michel on encouraging growth of the private sector in developing countries. "I don't think there is any risk or threat of a conflict of interest in those two activities."

March 20th 2007: the Flemish daily newspaper De Morgen reports that the Belgian development NGO 11.11.11 has criticised Louis Michel for a lack of transparency in his budget allocation and for channeling a disproportionate share of EU aid towards a small number of Central African countries (many of which are former Belgian colonies), at the expense of other African countries that have proven to spend aid more effectively. MEP Bart Staes sees a clear connection with Etienne Davignon acting as a special adviser and states that "Michel gives Davignon a serious present". Staes argues that, given the large emphasis on infrastructure projects in Michel's Africa strategy, Davignon's role as adviser makes Suez very well prepared for the bidding process for these contracts. "There is no concrete proof, but this does not smell very fresh", Staes concludes in De Morgen. Staes has also submitted parliamentary questions on Davignon's role as a special adviser. Michel's spokesperson Amadeu Altafaj called the critique "ridiculous" and stated there is "no conflict of interests". About Davignon, Altafaj adds that: "He advises Louis Michel unsalaried and exclusively about European Affairs. He does not advice about infrastructure works in Africa".

March 20th 2007: during a civil society dialogue meeting in Brussels about EU development aid policies, Louis Michel was asked what exactly Davignon advises him about. Michel, visibly irritated by the question, replied that he did not know that Davignon was involved in Suez. However, in case he would have known, he would have appointed him anyway. According to Michel, Davignon has never advised him on water issues, and they have never talked about the EU Water Facility; but rather about mobilising companies for ethical commitments, for the development of Africa. Davignon, Michel elaborated, has also advised on the preparations of EU-Africa Business Forum, on the enlargement process and the future of EU. Michel added that he has met Davignon "6 or 7 times".

March 21st 2007: the Flemish daily newspaper De Morgen publishes an article in which Michel defends his Africa policies. About Davignon's role, the article says the following: "According to Michel's spokesperson Monday, Davignon does not advice about Central Africa. But this was contradicted by the Commissioner yesterday. Davignon advises him about involving the private sector in the development policy. According to Michel, poverty reduction is only possible if an "entrepeneurial and responsible private sector is involved." A plain angry Davignon says to have no impact on the spending of development money. "I am fed up that my reputation is dragged through the soil like this. I have become too old for that. I advise the Commissioner, who decides the amount which goes to the developing countries, and nothing more. It is the administration that decides about the projects, independently and on the basis of objective criteria. There is no grey area, and I do not act on Suez' behalf towards Michel." Davignon says, however, to frequently talk with Michel about the private sector in Congo. "It is necessary that companies are encouraged to invest ethically in Congo. Because as you know: there is a lot of corruption."

March 21st 2007: during his press conference on the European Transparency Initiative Commissioner Kallas responds to a question about conflicting interests of special advisers like Davignon: "I have only preliminary data. The persons that looked it over say there is no conflict. But we will continue to analyse it carefully."

March 22nd 2007: an angry letter from Davignon to MEP Bart Staes is published in De Morgen. Davignon states that "the role of adviser can be only of a general nature." Davignon argues that there therefore "can be no talk of this overlapping with the professional responsibilities that I observe elsewhere."

March 24th 2007: De Morgen reports that "number of NGOs call upon Commissioner for development cooperation Louis Michel to not extend the mandate of Suez executive Etienne Davignon being his adviser. They fear a conflict of interests. Davignon's contract as a special adviser runs out March 31st." This letter by the World Development Movement, was co-signed by the NGOs ActionAid, Friends or the Earth Europe, Transnational Institute and Corporate Europe Observatory, as well as the European Federation of Public Services Unions.

To be continued...