Uber files: Lobbyist joked about finding ‘amazing’ job for Irish EU official

Shane Sutherland was in the cabinet of then-commissioner Phil Hogan when top Uber figure suggested finding him ‘something amazing’

Uber’s former top lobbyist for Europe joked about finding an “amazing” job for an Irish European Commission official at a time when the company was lobbying the institution for favourable policies, leaked files show.

The detail was contained in a cache of leaked documents leaked to The Guardian and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which includes The Irish Times, that have unveiled a vast lobbying operation by Uber to win the favour of officials and politicians.

The email reveals the casual attitude among some lobbyists towards the idea of offering lucrative positions to public officials, a sensitive issue for European institutions which have been hit by successive “revolving doors” scandals that raised conflict of interest concerns.

In the September 2016 email exchange, Mark MacGann, who had been Uber’s top lobbyist for Europe until that February and a senior adviser to its board until August, organised a lunch with Sebastian Vos, a lobbyist with law firm Covington & Burling, which numbers Uber among its clients according to the EU Transparency Register.

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Mr MacGann pushed Mr Vos to invite Irishman Shane Sutherland, a European Commission official who was a member of the cabinet of then-commission agriculture chief Phil Hogan at the time, to join them at the lunch.

‘Grow a pair’

“Force Shane to grow a pair and join us. He will be looking for a job soon and you and I are the best-placed to help him find something amazing :)” Mr MacGann wrote to Mr Vos. “Do NOT repeat that. Not before the first bottle anyway.”

Mr Vos replied that he would be “a bit more sensible on the booze side” and suggested meeting at Brussels fine dining restaurant Villa Lorraine.

Mr Sutherland told The Irish Times he did recall meeting the two men for lunch, but that it was “just a social lunch”, and he did not believe there was a need to register it on lobbying records.

“Sebastian is good friend, we play tennis, and it wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary just to sit down and have a lunch and a chinwag. And if he was bringing Mark then it wouldn’t have struck me that there was any agenda, hidden or otherwise,” said Mr Sutherland, who remains a commission official.

He said he was “surprised” at the content of the email because he was very pleased to have passed the difficult Concours exam required to get a permanent civil servant position at the European Commission, and had no interest in job opportunities elsewhere.

‘First choice’

“The lunch was not about work. It may have been casually dropped in: what are you going to do next? But I would have always been clear that my first choice is to remain with the commission,” he said.

Uber was heavily lobbying the European Commission at the time. Representatives of the cab-hailing company met with commissioners or their cabinet members on 12 declared occasions during the tenure of European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker from 2014 to 2019, the lobbying data shows.

Transparency records show 26 meetings between Mr Sutherland and various interest groups, including Ryanair, ExxonMobil and farmers’ representatives during the period, but none for Uber.

A son of the former attorney general of Ireland and European commissioner Peter Sutherland, Shane Sutherland joined the commission in the cabinet of the former Fianna Fáil minister Charlie McCreevy in 2004, and worked under the subsequent Irish commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn before joining Mr Hogan’s cabinet.

A request to the European Commission as to whether the lunch should have been registered on lobbying records was not responded to in time for publication. In response to journalists’ questions, a commission spokesman said officials were “analysing the various pieces of information that have been published” in the press about the Uber files and would examine whether action was required.

Mr MacGann has come forward as the whistleblower behind the leak of the files, which he said he had shared to make amends for pushing for what he now sees as a damaging business model.

Read more on The Uber Files

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O'Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times