RevolvingDoorWatch cases

updated

Marcus Lippold

Former employer: DG Energy, Advisor – EU International energy relations

Date: August, 2013

New employer: MOL Group + Saudi Aramco, Various

Institutional reaction:

The Commission has authorised these sabbatical appointments so long as Lippold abides by “certain limited conditions”, although it is not known what these are. Lippold's Commission authorisation for his Saudi Aramco post runs until the end of March 2016.

Comment from CEO:

"In our view, the Commission has taken a totally irresponsible approach to the risk of conflicts of interest during Lippold's coming and goings through the revolving door. The fact that a Commission official working on energy policy can leave one day and then start to work for a major EU energy company the next day beggars belief. That he can then go to work for the biggest oil company in the world, while maintaining a 'right to return' to the Commission, shows how far the EU executive will go to accommodate the demands of Big Energy."

Other info:

Following his move from ExxonMobil to DG Energy, Marcus Lippold was a senior energy economist working on several directives (the emissions' trading scheme's cap and trade, renewable energy directive, fuels quality directive, energy taxation directive etc), according to his LinkedIn profile. He then became a DG Energy advisor on EU international energy relations where he coordinated bilateral oil dialogues and cooperation with OPEC and had a “special focus on energy dialogue” with the OPEC Secretariat.

MOL Group

In August 2013 Lippold went on sabbatical from the Commission and became Vice President for business strategy and corporate affairs (responsible for the group upstream/ midstream/ downstream strategic projects and the management of governmental and international institutional relations) at MOL Group. MOL Group describes itself as a leading oil and gas corporation based in central and eastern Europe. It says it has operations in over 40 countries and it is owned by a variety of interests: the Hungarian state, ING bank, CEZ (the Czech electricity group) and OmanOil all have shareholdings.

MOL is in the EU lobby register and it says it is active in “all files related to energy, climate, environment, taxation, transport, competition, company law”. It records six full-time lobbyists and a 2013 lobby expenditure of €300,000-€399,999. According to intergritywatch.eu, in May 2015 MOL group met with Bernd Biervert (the Deputy Head of cabinet of Maroš Šefčovič, the commissioner responsible for the Energy Union) to present the company's activities in Central and Eastern Europe.

MOL group is a member of major energy industry lobby groups who are active at the EU level: FuelsEurope, the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers (IOGP), the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC), the European Petroleum Refiners Association, and the European Round Table of Industrialists. MOL is also a client of the lobby consultancy firm FIPRA.

Lippold will have had contact with MOL group during his time at the Commission. In 2011, he moderated a speakers' panel at the European Fuels Conference which included a speaker from MOL. And now we know that Lippold has had contact with the Commission on behalf of MOL since he went on sabbatical, in correspondence that should be defined as 'lobbying'. In December 2013, Lippold wrote to an official in DG Energy about the implementation of the oil stocks directive (which places requirements on member states to maintain a certain level of oil reserves) in Poland. The official replies that “the Commission does not assess and discuss national draft legislations”. However, once the Polish authorities finalise the legislation, the Commission will carry out a “conformity check” and the official says that it will “keep your remarks in mind”.

In June 2014, Lippold, again on behalf of MOL, wrote again to DG Energy, this time to a head of unit, regarding the implementation of the same directive in Romania. It contains criticism of the Romanian government's implementation of the directive and the “large financial burdens for fuel suppliers” which have apparently resulted. Lippold sets out MOL's position at length and then asks for the Commission’s understanding of how the directive should be implemented (delegated) at the national level, which is duly provided.

In December 2013, MOL launched a case against the Croatian government at the international arbitration court, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). Even though he only joined MOL in August 2013, it seems inconceivable that Lippold in his role as Vice President for business strategy and corporate affairs (which included the management of governmental and international institutional relations), did not play some part in this process.

Saudi Aramco

Lippold has now left MOL and in a further, shocking sabbatical joined Saudi Aramco where he has been responsible for regional corporate planning and policy in Europe and Russia since April 2015. Saudi Aramco is the world's biggest oil and gas company and the state-owned oil company of Saudi Arabia with interests in petroleum and chemicals. Saudi Arabia has a destructive track-record at UN climate talks, currently arguing to water-down an agreement at the climate talks to be held in Paris in December 2015. The company says that it maintains the world’s largest spare crude oil production capacity, equating to one in every eight barrels produced.

Aramco's board comprises figures from the Saudi regime as well as Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, former chairman of Shell; Peter Woicke, former Managing Director of the World Bank; and Andrew Gould, chairman of the BG Group plc. Aramco is not in the EU lobby register. (You can read CEO's exposé of EU lobby firms who act for repressive regimes, including some members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, here.) In October 2015, Saudi Aramco joined with other Big Energy corporations to call for “an effective climate change agreement at COP21”. However, a look behind the rhetoric shows that in fact it represents a self-interested call for more emphasis on gas and projects on carbon capture and storage.

The Commission's sabbatical rules

In January 2014, new revolving door rules for EU officials came into force. For the first time, those on sabbatical were forbidden from “engaging in an occupational activity, whether gainful or not, which involves lobbying or advocacy vis-à-vis his institution and which could lead to the existence or possibility of a conflict with the legitimate interests of the institution” (see article 40). And yet, Lippold, on sabbatical, has apparently been able to lobby former DG on behalf of private (MOL) interests. Either way, the Commission's willingness to authorise this sabbatical, albeit under “certain limited conditions”, indicates how blinkered its approach to conflicts of interest and corporate capture really is.

Lippold did not respond to efforts to contact him via Saudi Aramco. Lippold's sabbatical placements with Saudi Aramco and MOL group are part of his career pattern. Before he joined the Commission in 2008, he had had a long employment history with ExxonMobil which he has documented on his LinkedIn profile and which we have previously assessed on RevolvingDoorWatch. ExxonMobil's climate track record is appalling, considering its consistent attacks on climate science, its funding of climate denial (despite it's own scientists warning of risks of climate change since 1970s) and its lobbying to block effective action.

You can also read about 15 other energy/ climate/ environment-related revolving door stories in our November 2015 report: Brussels, big energy, and revolving doors: a hothouse for climate change.

Update 3 December 2015: CEO has now complained to the Commission about this case.

Update 26 April 2016: In its response to our complaint, the Commission provides astonishing argumentation to justify its decisions to allow Lippold's sabbaticals. Apparently, the letters sent by Lippold to the Commission while he was at MOL group "did not aim at influencing the European legislation or its activities" even though at one point, a Commission official tells him it will “keep your remarks in mind”. Meanwhile the Commission labels Lippold a "junior administrator" while we were previously told he was an "International Relations Officer" which sounds rather more important. Lippold himself referred to his most recent Commission role as "Advisor – EU International energy relations" where he coordinated bilateral oil dialogues and cooperation with OPEC and had a “special focus on energy dialogue” with the OPEC Secretariat. This does not sound very 'junior' either. The Commission implies that we wish to deny Lippold the right to work. We do not, but we do think that he should not be employed in roles where there is a conflict of interest. Finally the Commission says: "It would not be proportionate to prohibit a person from working within a company which is not declared illegal, which pursues legal aims and in addition accepts to abide by the EU transparency register principles and code of conduct." Aside from the fact that Saudi Aramco is not in the EU lobby register, these criteria are not sufficient when thinking about conflicts of interest. It is highly disappointing that the Commission uses the letter to defend its decisions rather than seriously investigating the important issues raised. 

updated

Marcus Lippold

Nationality: not known

Former employer: ExxonMobil, Various since 1992

Date: October, 2008

New employer: DG Energy, International relations officer

Institutional reaction:

Based on evidence gathered via access to documents (namely the absence of any documents regarding the assessment of Mr Lippold for possible conflicts of interest), it appeared that the Commission had not undertaken any assessment considering Mr Lippold's previous career at ExxonMobil and his current energy-related functions at the Commission. See: http://www.asktheeu.org/en/request/staff_regulations_article_11a_2#incoming-394However, in response to a letter from CEO and Greenpeace on 13 July, alleging that the apparent failure to assess potential conflicts of interest of Marcus Lippold (based on the absence of any  documents) could constitute maladministration, the Comission rejected this suggestion.  According to the Commission's letter dated 7 September, “Mr Lippold went through a standard recruitment procedure, which includes scrutinizing his CV and an interview. At the end of the procedure, it was concluded that Mr Lippold's experience in the oil industry was an asset for DG ENER. ” They state that the “mere fact that Mr Lippold worked in the past for Exxon Mobil ” does not mean he has any personal interest under Art. 11a. Moreover, they state that “There is indeed no reason why a candidate for a post should be discarded due to a previous job assignment in the industry.”This is not however what CEO suggested, we simply contend that previous career history - including former employers and / or clients where they relate to the official's present functions - is more than sufficient grounds to fully examine whether any impairment of independence could occur. Nor does the outcome of such an examination have to result in a candidate being discarded; it could simply lead to certain restrictions regarding particular dossiers or clients being agreed. Yet it is still far from evident, without any documentation to so demonstrate, that scrutinizing a CV and an interview constitutes a full assessment of potential conflicts of interest.In response to concerns about frequent contact with industry and potential bias, the Commission stated that Mr Lippold's "capacity to influence a policy debate involving a variety of actors, including at Commissioner level, should not be overestimated: like any other official, Mr Lippold carries out his tasks under the supervision of his hierarchy.” See Other info, below, for more details.

Comment from CEO:

"Article 11a of the Staff Regulations refers to the need to regulate 'personal interests' amongst Commission staff when they relate to their EU work. We consider that a robust definition of “personal interests” should include previous career history including former employers and / or clients where they relate to the official's present functions. Yet the Commission does not appear to have undertaken any assessment of whether or not Mr Lippold has a conflict of interest. Although the Commission states that a standard recruitment procedure including scrutinizing his CV and an interview was followed, it is far from evident, without any documentation to so demonstrate, that scrutinizing a CV and an interview constitutes a transparent and substantive assessment of potential conflicts of interest.  We consider that this could be maladministration: considering Mr Lippold’s previous career, it appears that there is a risk of conflicts of interest arising in his current functions and it looks as if the Commission has not recognised this, explored it or taken action as a result."

Other info:

Prior to joining the Commission, Mr Lippold had a long career in the oil industry. He joined ExxonMobil in 1992 to become Head of Department for Financial Reporting and Analysis for the company's Central European activities, followed by several management positions in the areas of Finance, Marketing and Information Technology. His most recent positions before joining the European Commission were Fixed Assets Manager for Europe, ExxonMobil Hungary BSC and ERP Systems Change Manager for Finance, ExxonMobil CAS. See: http://be.linkedin.com/pub/marcus-lippold/1/ab/a91

Now his role at Directorate General for Energy makes him responsible for international energy relations. This encompasses the coordination of bilateral oil dialogues and international cooperation (OPEC and non-OPEC countries) and the Oil and Gas dimension in international forums (G8, G20, IEA etc.), with a special focus on energy dialogues with the OPEC Secretariat, Saudi Arabia, UAE, GCC, IEF and the Arctic Forum. He apparently also coordinates the adoption of EU energy legislation in the Energy Community countries (Balkans, Ukraine, Turkey). See: http://be.linkedin.com/pub/marcus-lippold/1/ab/a91

Previously we understand that he was a senior energy economist at DG-Tren working on oil and coal related legislation. His portfolio included European oil upstream and downstream sectors and related refinery products and product markets. In 2009, he led a study assessing the competitive aspects of the oil product markets in the EU 27. See: http://www.bbspetroleum.com/files/Sofia_Upstream_Workshop/Marcus_Lippold_CV_short-Sept20-2010.pdf

Marcus Lippold has also been involved in some discussions on the implementation of the EU’s Fuel Quality Directive. The Directive sets a carbon intensity reduction target for transport fuels but no rules have been set so far as to how to measure the carbon intensity of fossil fuels. The Climate Commissioner (Connie Hedegaard) has proposed default values for fuels from different feedstock such as oil, gas or tar sands. Canada and the oil industry oppose the inclusion of a tar sands value, so does the Energy Commissioner (Günther Oettinger). It is clear that there is not yet a common view on this important issue across the whole Commission but CEO considers that there is a risk that the internal Commission debate to agree a policy in the public interest could be distorted if a former oil-industry staffer is able to participate as an official when there has been no assessment of possible conflicts of interest.

In response to our concerns about Mr Lippold's frequent contact with the oil and fuel industry, the Commission responded that we "do not provide any factual element suggesting that Mr Lippold's behaviour on these occasions was biased or partial.” With respect to concerns about ensuring impartiality in policymaking, specifically the EU's Fuel Quality Directive, the Commission said of Lippold that “his capacity to influence a policy debate involving a variety of actors, including at Commissioner level, should not be overestimated: like any other official, Mr Lippold carries out his tasks under the supervision of his hierarchy. ” Both of these answers circumvent the fact that the onus is on the institution to ensure their staff are working in the public interest, most clearly by ensuring possible conflicts of interests have been transparently and substantively assessed. It remains the fact that this prerequisite cannot be seen to have been demonstrated.

Update 18 November 2015: CEO has now discovered that Lippold has gone on sabbatical from DG Energy to the European energy company MOL Group and now to Saudi Aramco, the world's biggest oil and gas company. More information about these shocking revolving door sabbaticals can be read here. You can also read about 15 other energy/ climate/ environment-related revolving door stories in our November 2015 report: Brussels, big energy, and revolving doors: a hothouse for climate change.

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