Tuesday

22nd Jan 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 18 year's of archives. 30 days 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.

News in Brief

  1. EU hits Mastercard with €570m fine
  2. Romanian minister prepares to cancel corruption cases
  3. Sefcovic: no gas supply problems this winter
  4. Report: Commission warning on passport-sale schemes
  5. France summons Italian ambassador over colonial remark
  6. May U-turn on fee for EU nationals in UK
  7. French data watchdog gives Google €50m fine
  8. EU hits Russians with sanctions over Salisbury attack

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. France and Germany hope to revive EU with Aachen treaty
  2. May pushes defeated Brexit deal, offers no Plan B
  3. European Parliament targets 'fake' political groups
  4. What is fate of non-euro EU states after Brexit?
  5. Turkish NBA star takes on Erdogan
  6. 'Meme ban' still on table in EU copyright bill, says MEP
  7. Brexit power grab by MPs hangs over May's 'Plan B'
  8. Polish mayor's funeral marred by Tusk TV dispute

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us