Vaccines require clarity and transparency. A quote frequently heard yet frequently unrespected as shown by Giovanni Pitruzzella, Member of the Court of Justice of the European Union caught red-handed participating an unauthorised lobby event stepped down from the board of Aspen, Italian think-tank.
On March 25, Italian newspaper Domani reported that Advocate General Giovanni Pitruzzella participated in an event on vaccine patents co-hosted by the Aspen Institute Italy in cooperation with Farmindustria, the Italian pharmaceutical sector lobby group.
Pitruzzella was a speaker in a seminar about protection and enhancement of intellectual property and was announced as Vice-President of Aspen Institute Italy and Advocate General of the European Court of Justice. Other panelists were EU’s chief vaccines negotiator Sandra Gallina and Farmindustria’s president Massimo Scaccabarozzim. As reported by Domani, the online meeting was carried out behind closed doors and with a request to keep the contents confidential.
The participation of MEPs arguably made the seminar a lobbying event, aimed at influencing EU decision-making on the currently much-debated issue of intellectual property rules for vaccines. Because numerous civil society groups are calling upon the EU to support temporary waivers of copyright and patents on vaccines and treatments, it is expected that some related litigation could ensue in the coming weeks and months. It is therefore possible that Giovanni Pitruzzella might be called upon to play a role as Advocate General in these cases.
For these reasons, together with Corporate Europe Observatory, The Good Lobby has denounced AG Pitruzzella’s participation in such event as inappropriate for a Member of the Court. In a letter addressed at CJEU President Koen Lenaerts, we argued that AG Pitruzzella’s activities might not be compatible with Articles 3, 7, and 8 of the ECJ’s Code of Conduct. It is argued that, by joining the event, AG Pitruzzella might have adversely affected public perception of his independence.
The two NGOs inquired with the President of the Court if a prior authorisation was granted and whether any recommendations were made for ensuring that AG Pitruzzella’s participation in the event was in full accordance with the Code of Conduct. They also asked whether AG Pitruzzella was previously authorised by the Court to sit on the Executive Committee of Aspen Institute Italy and serve as Executive Vice-Chairman.
President Lenaerts swiftly responded to such letter on 31 March, explaining that even though AG Pitruzzella “made a presentation of general nature, which lasted only eight minutes”, his participation was not authorised by CJEU General Meeting. President Lenaerts also clarified that the Court authorised him to sit on the Executive Committee of Aspen Institute Italy and serve as Executive Vice-Chairman in June 2019. However, “to avoid future misunderstandings”, AG Pitruzzella immediately resigned from his position at Aspen Institute Italy.
Press Release available here.
9 February 2021