Friday

13th Dec 2019

'Unethical' EU commissioners to face public shame

  • Former EU commission president Barroso (r) landed a job at Goldman Sachs (Photo: European Commission)

European commissioners that breach conflict of interest rules will be reprimanded in public.

The move is part of a new code of conduct the EU executive says is needed to prevent major embarrassments, such as the Barroso Goldman Sachs affair.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

On Wednesday (31 January), commission vice-president Jyrki Katainen told reporters that the new code applies to every commissioner under Jean-Claude Juncker's stewardship.

"This new code takes affect as of today and as applicable to all current members of the Juncker commission in line with Juncker's push for greater transparency," he said.

The code follows a scandal when the former president of the European Commission, Jose Barroso, landed a job at investment bank Goldman Sachs.

Barroso was hired just days after the UK voted in a referendum to leave the European Union. Goldman Sachs tasked him to help buffer clients from a Brexit fallout.

The US investment bank was instrumental in triggering a major financial crisis in Europe during Barroso's ten-year commission president term.

Critics accused him of being part of a 'revolving door' syndrome, where a politician or official leaves their posts to then lobby on the same issue they legislated on.

When Barroso brushed of criticism that he was putting business ahead of politics, a public uproar ensued, including from thousands of staff within the European Commission.

A separate case a year later saw former competition and digital commissioner, Nellie Kroes, in another scandal. Kroes joined the advisory board of the US car-sharing firm Uber after leaving the commission.

But she had also failed to declare an offshore company and its earnings when becoming competition chief in 2004.

'I don't get your point'

Katainen appeared to stall when asked by a reporter if a public reprimand under the new codes is enough to prevent a Kroes and Barroso repeat.

"I'm sorry I don't get your point. As a commission we must take care of the credibility of institutions," he said.

"These issues cannot be dealt with a populist approach," he added.

A new "independent ethics committee" will be tasked to issue recommendations. Those recommendations may push the commission to then express a reprimand and make it public.

But Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), a Brussels-based pro-transparency NGO, says the new committee has no real powers and keeps the current culture of self-policing on ethics issues.

"These changes will not prevent new revolving door scandals from happening and fail to meet the demands made by MEPs, EU officials and citizens after the Barroso scandal," said CEO campaigner Margarida Silva, in an emailed statement.

Commissioners with now have to declare investments above €10,000.

Those leaving and seeking a new job will have to wait two years in what is also referred to as a "cooling off period". The period for a European commission president will be three years.

But Emily O'Reilly, the EU ombudsman, said some new positions might still pose problems regardless of the new cooling off periods.

"Some new positions may still infringe the treaty obligation to act with discretion and integrity, even after two or three years have passed. These new positions need a case-by-case analysis," said her office, in an emailed statement.

O'Reilly is set to publish in February an in-depth analysis of the new code of conduct rules.

Magazine

Barrosogate and the revolt of public opinion

Just days after Britain's vote to leave the EU, the bloc was rocked by the news that commission ex-president, Jose Manuel Barroso, had landed a top job with Goldman Sachs.

Ombudsman asks for more details on Barroso case

Emily O'Reilly has asked the EU Commission to say what former commissioners should be allowed to do after they leave office and explain why it took no decision over its former president's controversial new job.

Former EU commissioner gets slap on the wrist

Neelie Kroes, a commission member from 2004 to 2014, received a "reprimand" fro failing to declare off-shore company and income while receiving an EU allowance.

Zahradil 'conflict of interest' probe may flounder

The European Parliament's internal body, designed to sanction MEPs for conflicts of interests, has failed to deliver any meaningful verdicts. Some are hoping a future proposal for a new independent ethics body will help hold MEPs accountable.

Exclusive

Zahradil 'conflict of interest' over EU-Vietnam trade deal

Right-wing Czech MEP Jan Zahradil is leading European Parliament negotiations on a trade deal with Vietnam. As rapporteur, he is supposed to be neutral but has neglected to declare his involvement in a group with ties to the Communist party.

News in Brief

  1. UK exit poll gives Johnson majority of 86
  2. Orban: 'financial guarantees' to reach climate neutrality
  3. Merkel hopes EU leaders agree 2050 climate-neutrality
  4. Czech PM: nuclear energy needed for climate neutrality
  5. Hungary: Climate target is burden, EU should help
  6. Malta PM urged to step down ahead of EU summit
  7. France rolls out new pension scheme amid protests
  8. Germany accused of aiding war crimes in Yemen

This is the (finally) approved European Commission

MEPs gave the green light to the entire new European Commission during the plenary session in Strasbourg - but with the abstention of the Greens and a rejection by the leftist group GUE/NGL.

Magazine

Welcome to the EU engine room

Welcome to the EU engine room: the European Parliament (EP's) 22 committees, which churn out hundreds of new laws and non-binding reports each year and which keep an eye on other European institutions.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. Leaders agree 2050 climate neutrality - without Poland
  2. EU leaders cagey on 'Future of Europe' conference
  3. Pressure mounts to grill Malta's Muscat at EU summit
  4. Revealed: little evidence to justify internal border checks
  5. Europe needs to make mind up on relations with Africa
  6. Leaders face crucial EU summit for climate action
  7. Leaders to battle on climate target and money at summit
  8. Von der Leyen: 'Green Deal is our man-on-moon moment'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us