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11th Apr 2021

Commission rejects ombudsman criticism over Barroso case

  • "l have not and will not lobby EU officials," Barroso says (Photo: epp.eu)

The European Commission stood its ground on Thursday (15 March) and rejected any criticism by the EU Ombudsman over its handling of the Barroso case.



Emily O'Reilly, the institutions' accountability watchdog, asked the EU executive to refer back to its ethics committee the appointment of former commission president Jose Manuel Barroso at the Goldman Sachs bank, and to state clearly how Barroso must be treated by commission officials.

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She said that the commission's lack of a decision despite a public outcry was a "maladministration" that was "not without consequences".

"We will answer to all recommendations," commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told journalists.

But he declined to express any regret over the situation and suggested that the commission had no intention of referring the case back to the ethics committee.

He said that commission was "world leader for the quality and intensity of its rules."

Schinas pointed out that at the time of Barroso's move to the US business bank, the 18-month so-called 'cooling off' period - during which former commissioners have to notify the commission of the jobs they want to take - was over.

The commission's decision to let Barroso take his job "was taken within a certain legal framework", Schinas argued.

What is lobbying?

"The commission drew a political conclusion of the situation we inherited by extending the cooling off period for former presidents from 18 months to three years," he said, suggesting that the commission had no intention to review the rules as also asked by the Ombudsman.

The EU executive also considers that a letter by its president Jean-Claude Juncker to O'Reilly in 2016, in which he said that Barroso would be received in the commission "not as a former president but as an interest representative", was clear enough about how it intended to treat him.

Schinas argued that a meeting between Barroso and commission vice president Jyrki Katainen, was not lobbying, but that it was registered as a meeting with Goldman Sachs in order to stick to the principle set out in Juncker's letter.

Barroso also rejected O'Reilly's view that he lobbied commissioner Jyrki Katainen when he met him last October.

"l have not and will not lobby EU officials," he said in a tweet posted minutes after the Ombudsman report was out.

"No one ever asked him what he means by that," said Margarida Silva, from Corporate Observatory Europe (COE), the NGO that shed light on the Barroso-Katainen meeting.

"Of course, he didn't come with a shopping list of demands," she told EUobserver. But she insisted, as O'Reilly did in her report, that gathering information was "a key activity" for lobbyists.

Revolving doors

"We really hope the commission takes the time to listen to the criticism," Silva said, asking for "a deeper assessment" of the case that goes "beyond the meetings."

She welcomed O'Reilly's "comprehensive assessment", saying that the Ombudsman "pointed out the systemic problem with the European Commission's ethics especially the revolving doors".

"The revolving door between former commissioners and lobbying jobs must be closed," said MEP Sven Giegold, the European Parliament's rapporteur for "transparency, accountability and integrity in the EU institutions."

The commission, the parliament, as well as the EU Council, which represents member states, are currently negotiating an interinstitutional agreement on a mandatory transparency register.

Talks started at technical level in January and a first meeting at political level is planned for April.

Interview

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.

Commission sticks to its line on Barroso case

In a letter to a coalition of transparency NGOs, the EU executive has repeated that a meeting between its former boss - now working for Goldman Sachs - and the current vice president was "fully in line" with the rules.

Opinion

Hill's UBS move confirms EU's 'revolving door' problem

No surprise that in the last decade at least one third of top staff at the EU Commission's financial unit have either came from the financial industry or went there after their time at the commission.

Ombudsman insists Draghi leaves G30 bankers group

The European Ombudsman says that "maladministration" in the European Central Bank continues to exist as long as its president remains member of the secretive 'Group of Thirty'.

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