EU Ombudsman: Barroso and Selmayr cases gave ammunition to populists

File photo. The European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly speaks as she presents the 2014 activities report at the European Parliament's Place Leopold in Brussels, Belgium, 25 February 2016. [Laurent Dubrule/EPA/EFE]

The European Union’s ombudsman has voiced “frustration” to AFP that high-profile lapses in standards by the bloc’s institutions in recent years provide “ammunition” for eurosceptics to attack the EU.

“The EU generally has very high standards but a lot of people out there are willing to attack it externally and internally,” ombudsman Emily O’Reilly told AFP in Budapest Tuesday (7 May).

“So it is a shame for the EU then to give ammunition to the populists,” she said in an interview.

The EU ombudsman is an independent and impartial body that holds the EU’s institutions and agencies to account, and promotes good administration.

Last year a rushed and murky procedure saw Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s chief of staff Martin Selmayr promoted to top civil servant of the EU’s 30,000-strong executive.

EU Ombudsman raps Juncker over Selmayr’s move to top job

The European Ombudsman has found that the EU executive under President Jean-Claude Juncker failed to follow procedures in appointing his chief aide to run the EU civil service and so undermined public trust.

The Commission later rejected the conclusion of the ombudsman’s probe that EU rules on transparency in hiring processes had been broken.

In another sensitive case, José  Manuel Barroso, commission president between 2004 and 2014, accepted a job with the Goldman Sachs bank, a firm widely blamed for its role in the 2008 global crash and eurozone debt crisis.

EU watchdog opens probe into Barrosogate

Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly began investigating the Commission’s handling of the Barrosogate scandal today (28 February).

In 2016, an EU ethics panel cleared Barroso of breaching bloc rules on lobbying.

“There is a frustration that there isn’t a recognition of the links between poor behaviour on the one hand and allowing populists to unfairly criticise the EU on the other,” O’Reilly told AFP.

“The Selmayr and Barroso cases received media coverage all over the world, “and particularly in media and in member states and other countries that are hostile to the EU itself and that is a pity,” she said.

Almost all of her office’s recommendations have been accepted by the EU institutions, said O’Reilly, but “the high profile ones are the ones that can do the most damage…by getting eurosceptic attention”.

The Irishwoman took on the job in 2013 when the previous Ombudsman left the post early and then continued for the 2014-2019 mandate. Her office told AFP that she plans to run for another term when the mandate expires after the election.

Earlier, O’Reilly delivered a speech at the Central European University where she called for more transparency in Brussels corridors of power.

“It is hard for the EU to criticise member states for ethical breaches if it doesn’t adopt the highest standards itself,” she told the audience.

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