Saudis have been known to employ global firms or former EU officials rather than Saudi nationals to navigate the complex landscape of EU regulations. For instance, Aramco, the state-owned oil company of Saudi Arabia, enlisted the expertise of former European Commission energy department official, Marcus Lippold, as revealed by the NGO Corporate Europe Observatory. Lippold’s background at the Commission included advisory roles on EU international energy relations and coordination of bilateral oil dialogues and cooperation with OPEC.
During his initial year with Aramco, Lippold was officially on a sabbatical, retaining the right to return to the Commission. In 2013, Lippold took another year off from the Commission and assumed the position of Vice President at MOL Group, an oil and gas company partly owned by the Hungarian state, ING bank, and OmanOil. However, despite Saudi Arabia’s questionable record on fundamental rights and basic freedoms, he continued his association with the Kingdom, raising concerns.
For transparency advocates and NGOs, the connections between the public affairs industry and Saudi Arabia serve as a reflection of a broader issue. Lippold’s role at the European Commission, specifically within the energy department, is noteworthy. During his tenure at Saudi Aramco from 2008 to 2012, Lippold held positions such as Fixed Assets Manager for Europe and Corporate Planning Manager for Europe & Russia.
Lippold’s sabbatical placements with Saudi Aramco and MOL Group form part of his career trajectory. His LinkedIn profile highlights his expertise in downstream oil, as well as knowledge of the energy strategies and practices of the EU Commission. Importantly, Lippold’s work for Saudi Aramco predates his current position within the European Commission and includes lobbying efforts on behalf of Saudi Arabia.
In an unexpected career shift, Lippold returned to Saudi Aramco in 2015, where he took on the role of overseeing regional corporate planning and policy for Europe and Russia. Saudi Aramco, renowned as the world’s largest oil and gas company and Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil giant, has significant interests in petroleum and chemicals. Notably, Saudi Arabia has faced criticism for its track record at UN climate talks, where it has been accused of diluting agreements, particularly leading up to the Paris climate talks in December 2015. Saudi Aramco claims to maintain the world’s largest spare crude oil production capacity, equivalent to one in every eight barrels produced.
Individuals who have worked on behalf of Saudi Arabia often engage in efforts to improve their clients’ public image, target dissidents and opponents, influence elections, obscure human rights abuses, and lobby for lucrative investment opportunities, trade agreements, aid, and political support with EU institutions and member states. Unfortunately, the true identities, compensation, and activities of these individuals remain largely undisclosed, leaving many questions unanswered.