19th Mar 2018

Commission defence of Barroso meeting leaves 'discrepancies'

  • Commission presidents past and present - Juncker (l) has defended Barroso (r) as a "friend" and said no rules were broken (Photo: European Commission)

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker considers that his vice president Jyrki Katainen followed all the rules when he met Goldman Sachs' Jose Manuel Barroso in a hotel bar last autumn.

"The meeting was respecting in full the rules the commission has adopted," Juncker told journalists on Wednesday (21 February).

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He pointed out that Barroso, who is Juncker's predecessor as commission president, has been "put on the list of lobbyists" and that "the meeting was made public".

"We never said that Jose Manuel Barroso could not have meetings with commissioners and that commissioners would not be allowed to have meetings with the former president of the commission," he insisted.

Juncker added that Barroso was "not a gangster" and was still his "friend".

Barroso joined Goldman Sachs, a US investment bank, in July 2016, less than a month after the Brexit vote, to help the bank dealing with UK's exit from the EU.

An ad hoc committee set up by the commission said that Barroso's move was not in violation of the commission's code of conduct for former commissioners.

The committee however considered that Barroso had "not shown the considerate judgment one may expect from someone having held the high office he occupied for so many years" by joining a bank with a "negative image of financial greed".

But it noted that the former commission chief, in a letter to Juncker, had promised that he would not lobby for Goldman Sachs.

The committee said that it "consider[ed] "this commitment as responding to the duty of integrity and discretion imposed by the treaty."

Barroso registered?

Barroso being on a list of lobbyist, as mentioned by Juncker, would contradict this commitment and put into question the ad hoc committee's his being cleared of his Goldman Sachs move.

EUobserver understands however that the former commission chief is not among the six people who are mentioned as the "persons involved in the activities" covered by the EU transparency register.

And his name doesn't appear when searched in the register.

"There are so many discrepancies in all this story," said Margarida Silva, from Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), the Brussels-based transparency watchdog which brought light on the meeting this week.

Katainen met Barroso in November, in a hotel near the commission building.

He told EUobserver on Monday that they went "for a beer" and talked about the commission's "ambitious trade and defence agenda."

"He did not lobby me. We did not talk about a word of the bank," he said.

"We knew that no matter he is my friend or not, it's better to put it to the registry. We just wanted to make sure that he is there if somebody is interested," he added to explain why a the meeting was put in the commissioners registry of meetings.

The beer with Barroso was however registered as a meeting with "the Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. (GS)."

'We need clarity'

In a letter to CEO last month, Katainen said that he met "with Mr Barroso from Goldman Sachs in the Silken Berlaymont Hotel in Brussels on 25 October 2017."

"Why did he not tell us that it was a private meeting when we asked him?" CEO's Silva asked.

She pointed out that no notes were taken of the meeting, contrary to usual pratices in an official meeting.

"We cannot question Katainen's explanations," she told this website. "But if it's was a private meeting, why did he log it in the meetings register?"

"We're just confused. At this point we need clarity," Silva said.

At his press conference, Juncker insisted that the commission could not be criticised for making the meeting public.

"This is nothing," he said about the controversy.

Vestager's 'no lobbyists' rule

Some EU officials however admitted - off the record - that Katainen's meeting was unfortunate.

Another commissioner also suggested that the Finnish member of the commission should have been more cautious.

"I took a decision in the very first week of my mandate not to meet with lobbyists," competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager told journalists on Wednesday.

She said she preferred to "meet with people who are in charge, who can take the decisions."

Avoiding lobbyists "makes my life very easy," she said.


Katainen explains: My friend Barroso did not lobby me

Vice-president of the European Commission Jyrki Katainen tells EUobserver that he did most of the talking during a beer with the former commission chief, who now works for 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.


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.

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