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10th Apr 2021

Commissioner Katainen confirms Barroso lobbied him

  • Katainen (l) when he was still Finland's prime minister, meeting then European Commission chief Barroso, in 2012. Five years later, the two met again, but now Barroso is employed by Goldman Sachs (Photo: European Commission)

Former head of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso has lobbied the current commission on behalf of Goldman Sachs, one of the commission's vice-presidents confirmed in a letter.

"Indeed, I met with Mr Barroso from Goldman Sachs in the Silken Berlaymont Hotel in Brussels on 25 October 2017," wrote commissioner Jyrki Katainen, in charge of jobs and growth.

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  • Barroso (r) had told his successor, Juncker (l), that he would not lobby on behalf of his new employer

"Mr Barroso and I were the only participants to this meeting, where we mostly discussed trade and defence matters," he added.

The letter was dated 31 January 2018 and sent to a campaigner from the Corporate Europe Observatory, a non-profit with a focus on lobbying. It was made public on Tuesday (20 February).

The meeting was registered in the commissioner's meeting register, but only as a meeting with 'The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. (GS)' – Barroso's name was not entered in the public register.

When Barroso took a job with the US investment bank in 2016, it caused a controversy, because the bank has been linked to the Greek debt crisis – which Barroso was dealing with as head of the European Commission from 2004-2014.

Barroso had told his successor, Jean-Claude Juncker, that he would not lobby on behalf of his new employer.

"I have not been engaged to lobby on behalf of Goldman Sachs and I do not intend to do so," Barroso wrote to Juncker in a letter.

But now it appears that he did.

To Alter-EU, a coalition of non-governmental organisations, Barroso's U-turn requires a new assessment of his case.

"In the light of the controversial hiring of former president Barroso by Goldman Sachs International and president Juncker's instruction on how to deal with lobbyists, plus public instructions that former President Barroso should be treated just like any other lobbyist, we are formally lodging a complaint of maladministration," the group said in a letter sent to the secretary-general of the commission dated Tuesday (20 February).

Following the controversy, the current commission set up an ad-hoc ethical committee to investigate the case. It concluded that Barroso had not done anything wrong.

"Yet, permission for him to take up this role from the ad-hoc ethical committee was based on Mr Barroso's promise to not lobby," said Alter-EU.

"As a result we consider that that opinion must be deemed null and Mr Barroso's activities on behalf of Goldman Sachs should be reviewed, presumably now by the Independent Ethics Committee."

Remarkably, Katainen said that there were no records of his meeting with Barroso.

"I usually do not take notes in meetings and I did not do so at this meeting either," the commissioner wrote in his letter.

"For these reasons, there are no documents regarding this event," he added.

The EU's access to documents regulation only allows citizens to demand publication of documents that exist.

"The meeting was set up at Mr Barroso's request and it was arranged over the phone by my office," Katainen also noted.

Later on Tuesday, EUobserver published an interview with commission vice-president Katainen.

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