BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Ombudsman called on the EU executive on Thursday to review whether its former president, Jose Manuel Barroso, ought to be working for Goldman Sachs after complaints that he was harming the EU’s image.
The recommendation from the bloc’s ethics watchdog follows a year-long inquiry triggered after Barroso, a former Portuguese premier who led the European Commission for 10 years until 2014, joined the London arm of the U.S. investment bank in mid-2016.
Barroso has complained of “discriminatory” behavior toward him. The Ombudsman said in a statement that her opinion had been influenced by new revelations that Barroso met a senior commissioner on Goldman’s behalf last October despite having given an undertaking not to lobby his former employers in 2016.
With the EU reeling at that time from Britain’s vote to quit, Barroso’s successor Jean-Claude Juncker said he disapproved of his move to an institution criticized by some for its role in the financial crisis that plagued Europe.
But Juncker at first said he could not obstruct Barroso taking the job as an 18-month “cooling off” period to avert conflicts of interest had lapsed.
However, Juncker doubled that period for future incumbents and referred Barroso’s case to the Commission’s internal ethics committee to examine whether Barroso had breached a lifetime obligation for ex-commissioners to “behave with integrity”.
That committee’s subsequent ruling that Barroso suffer no loss of EU pension or other entitlements due to his new job was based, the Ombudsman said in her report, on a promise not to lobby the Commission on behalf of his new employer – a promise, she said, Barroso breached in his October meeting.
There was no immediate reaction from the Commission. It has the power to ask the EU court to cut the pensions of former commissioners who breach treaty obligations to act with integrity but such a step would be unprecedented. The Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly recommended that the Commission consider asking Barroso to commit to refrain from lobbying it for some years.
(Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Mark Potter)