Despite recent efforts by anti-oil and gas activists and Green party members, the European Parliament voted not to strip ExxonMobil of its access badges to Parliament on Tuesday. According to reports, the parliament’s secretary general Klaus Welle “found no grounds to seek authorization to withdraw or deactivate ExxonMobil’s access badges, given the absence of formal summons to attend the hearing.”
This move signifies a rejection of Greens’ claims that revoking the badges would be justified after the company didn’t participate in an EU hearing on climate change last month – a hearing to which it was never formally invited due to pending lawsuits on the issue in the United States. Importantly, this vote also represents a rejection of the outside activists, such as Geoffrey Supran, who attempted to manipulate Parliament into taking action against the company.
Decision Based on ‘Rule of Law, not Politics’
In March 2019, the European Parliament held a joint hearing on “Climate Change Denial,” with a focus on the #ExxonKnew campaign, after a petition was submitted by activist group Food & Water Watch Europe – the European branch of the Rockefeller-backed Food & Water Watch. The hearing hosted a parade of activists and scientists, such as Supran, but ExxonMobil stated the company was “constrained from participating because of ongoing climate litigation in the United States,” and that public commentary “could prejudice those pending proceedings.”
Considering claims that the company misled the public on climate change stem from (and have been propagated by) a manufactured campaign rather than facts, it would only be reasonable not to needlessly jeopardize ongoing litigation to address completely unfounded claims. And yet in a political move, some Members of European Parliament (MEPs), led by Green MEP Molly Cato, argued the company’s lack of attendance was enough to “remove their badges immediately.”
These political machinations were quickly criticized by outside observers. As Daniel Gueguen, Visiting Professor at the College of Europe, notes in a recent blog post, “the proper and democratic functioning of the European Parliament should be based on the Rule of Law not Politics.” Gueguen elaborates that because of how extreme a step the removal of badges is, it’s vital that any action to do so must be done apolitically and after careful deliberation:
“The removal of badges is a very serious sanction as it ultimately prevents the exercise of a fundamental right of any citizen to participate in the normal democratic process. The ‘sanction’ can only be the result of a strict administrative process led by the Quaestors and Secretary General, evaluating the various elements of the case and considering the principals of the Rule of Law and proportionality when taking their decisions.”
Others, such as law professor and Senior Fellow at the Institute for Statecraft, Alan Riley, have stated that revoking ExxonMobil’s badges over not attending the hearing is “thin justification,” noting that companies such as Apple have faced similar situations in the EU:
“Furthermore, there is a compelling precedent. Apple also didn’t attend hearings in relation to a parliamentary investigation into state aid. It was accepted by the parliament in that case that Apple could not realistically be expected to respond to questions over its tax practices whilst at the same time being faced with a European Commission investigation into the same matter.”
Rejection of Activist Influences
In addition to a handful of MEPs pushing to strip ExxonMobil of its ability to participate in the democratic process, activists took up the cause as a way to politically silence the company. This is in line with the #ExxonKnew campaign’s goal of “delegitimizing” the company as a “political actor,” according to internal campaign memos.
The most outspoken in this regard was Geoffrey Supran, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University and leader in the fossil fuel divestment movement. Notably, Supran is co-author of a 2017 study that claimed ExxonMobil misled the public over climate change – a study that was firmly debunked for relying on data analysis that is “unreliable, invalid, biased, not generalizable, and not replicable,” according to Professor Kimberly A. Neuendorf.
It’s notable that despite Supran’s overt bias against ExxonMobil – once stating that someone should engineer “Exxon out of business” – he was still able to testify at the March hearing. Yet, when confronted with criticism of his work following his participation in the hearing, Supran threw a tantrum over social media, leaking a letter sent to MEPs claiming that these legitimate criticisms amount to “doubt-mongering and character assassination,” as well as publishing an angry op-ed in EurActiv alleging the company was trying to “mislead parliament” with an “attack” on his release. In this op-ed, he also states that during the hearing he “learned that although ExxonMobil had been invited to attend and to respond transparently to the historical evidence, they had refused,” which is unambiguously false. Moreover, in one tweet he stated that the company’s criticism of his “research epitomizes its assault on democratic decision-making.” Missing from Supran’s response to these critiques, however, was any attempt to address the glaring flaws in his work.
As the #ExxonKnew campaign continues its slow unraveling here in the United States, and similar activist campaigns in Canada are being met with pushback from officials, it’s interesting to see how Europeans are similarly giving activists the stiff arm. While climate activists grow increasingly bold in their efforts to eliminate fossil fuels, this move by the EU Parliament provides a refreshing rebuke of these political antics.