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Wednesday, 23 January 2013

On access to politicians

According to certain people this article should not be circulated as it comes from the pen of tobacco industry executive Ronan Barry, but his point is too important to leave at the mercy of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

He welcomes a proposal within the EU for a committee to investigate tobacco lobbying, because of the issue of whether tobacco companies should be allowed access to political figures in order to put their case and fight their corner, according to article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

He proceeds:
European companies are comprised of European citizens. To say that any class or category of citizens should be barred or restrained from communicating to or trying to persuade politicians to their points of view is, I would suggest, to challenge some of the EU’s fundamental democratic principles.

However, this is what some anti-tobacco NGOs want to do. Why? Is it because they realise that the arguments of the tobacco lobby are strong and credible? Or is it because they have a profound mistrust in the ability of democratically elected politicians to do their job, ie to listen to the views of society, choose between competing arguments and then make policy. The people of Europe expect politicians to judge between opposing arguments and viewpoints. They do not expect that NGOs should attempt to control or supervise who may present politicians with arguments in the first place. [Emphasis added.]
Barry makes the reasonable case that access to politicians is a general principle accountability that must not be over-ridden by interest groups demanding the exclusion of others from the democratic process. He is not opposed to a committee finding that greater transparency is needed in the lobbying efforts of tobacco companies provided the same standards of transparency are applied across the board.

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