Wednesday

21st Feb 2024

Analysis

Juncker's Barrosogate response is too little, too late

  • Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (l) unveiling a portrait of Jose Manuel Barroso (r).

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker will ask his team to consider tightening the rules on former members’ conduct during a college meeting next week (16 November).

But the move already seems unlikely to calm a four-month long row over the handling of his predecessor, Jose Manuel Barroso, who landed a top job with US investment bank Goldman Sachs last July.

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Juncker wants the college to double the spell during which commission ex-bosses have to seek permission for post-office employment to three years.

The college could also extend the so-called cooling-off period for other ex-commissioners from 18 to 24 months.

All 28 commissioners have to agree before the rules can be changed.

”If they don’t, I will declare publicly that I’m not taking up a job with a bank or any other company for three years,” Juncker vowed in a recent interview with Belgian daily Le Soir.

The Luxembourg politician added that he may have taken too long to say what he was "morally thinking".

”But I had some difficulty accepting that my commission is criticised for the behaviour of forerunners,” he said.

Except that critics hold him accountable for his own failures, including his initial lack of action on Barroso.

For weeks, Juncker insisted that Barroso followed the rules. It took him two months to refer his predecessor’s case to an internal ethics panel, and that only happened after a suggestion by European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly.

He ignored calls from MEPs, including his friend Martin Schulz, who said a 10-year cooling-off period would be more appropriate for ex-presidents.

He refused to meet transparency groups and the commission’s own employees when they tried to hand over two petitions asking for strong measures to be taken against Barroso.

News of dubious behaviour by other members of the Barroso team - most famously Neelie Kroes, who failed to declare directorship of an offshore company in Bahamas - added fuel to the fire.

Yet Juncker took action only after one of his favourite papers, the pro-European Le Soir, dedicated a dossier to his shortcomings and said the commission was ”in denial”.

He called the Belgian daily to present his proposals. But these are already falling short of expectations.

The Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), a transparency group, called it a ”face-saving exercise” that wouldn’t stop the next ethics scandal.

The proposal didn’t even add up with the commission’s own rules, Hungarian Green MEP Benedek Javor remarked.

”Since ex-commissioners have the right to receive a transitional allowance for up to three years, I believe the cooling-off period should be at least that long,” Javor told this website.

”It does nothing to solve the Barroso case,” said an EU official from the petition-making committee, saying that the ex-boss must face sanctions.

”We have had enough of half-measures and muffled statements in the media. Only a bold statement would stay with public opinion,” the EU employee, who wished to remain anonymous, told this website.

Amid Juncker’s reluctance to act against his peers, and falling trust in the president’s judgement, critics including Belgian liberal MEP Gerard Deprez have asked him to refer the matter to the European Court of Justice.

”We aren't asking for anything difficult,” Deprez told this website.

”The court can clarify what it means to act with integrity and discretion both during and after their term of office,” Deprez said, ”and finally put an end to the poisoning of the EU image.”

He has helped to organise a written declaration asking for a referral, so far signed by 124 MEPs.

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