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20th Apr 2019

Commission tightens rules after Barrosogate

  • Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said ethical behaviour depended on more than tight rules.

The European Commission has proposed to prolong the period during which top officials have to seek permission before moving on to a new job, in an effort to calm a public uproar over former president Jose Manuel Barroso's job at Goldman Sachs.

"In the light of recent experience made with members of the previous commission, our code of conduct should be tightened in order to set the highest ethical standards possible for cases of conflict of interest," commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said on Wednesday (23 November) in a statement.

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Barroso, Juncker's predecessor, caused a furore in July when he joined the US investment bank Goldman Sachs some 20 months after leaving the commission.

The current rules say ex-members of the college are subject to a "cooling-off" interval of 18 months after leaving office.

Juncker suggested expanding the period to three years for ex-presidents, and two years for all other members of the college.

"Tighter rules are certainly not sufficient to bring about acceptable ethical behaviour in all cases. But they are an indispensable starting point," he added.

Critics have long argued that the current code is too lax and allows for a "revolving door" between the EU executive and business.

Juncker came under fire in the Barroso case for failing to firmly condemn his predecessor and launch a sanctions procedure against him.

He waited several months before referring the case to the Ad Hoc Ethical Committee, an internal advisory panel, and that only happened after pressure from EU ombudsman Emily O'Reilly.

The ombudsman on Wednesday welcomed the commission's announcement, but said she would continue to monitor the situation.

She said her own work on the code of conduct suggested there was need for more far-reaching measures, including more detail on how the rules should be interpreted and the possibility of sanctions.

She also hinted at a possible overhaul of the Ad Hoc Ethical Committee, which currently consists of three people who are supposed to be independent experts but all have long careers in the EU behind them.

The commission gave no news on Wednesday regarding possible sanctions on Barroso. A spokesman said they were still discussing the opinion of the ethics panel, which was delivered on 31 October and said that Barroso had tarnished the image of the EU but not broken against the 18 months deadline.

Juncker himself has said Goldman Sachs was a "poor choice" of employer.

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