Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly began investigating the Commission’s handling of the Barrosogate scandal today (28 February).
Former European Commission President José Manuel Barroso was criticised for taking an advisory position with Goldman Sachs, which is largely blamed in Brussels for its role in the 2008 stock market crash, and the eurozone debt crisis.
“No problem for him to take a job in a private bank, but not that one,” President Jean-Claude Juncker said last September.
An Ad Hoc Ethics Committee (AHEC) determined in October of 2016 that Barroso did not breach EU ethics laws because he waited the required 18 months between leaving office and taking the advisory position.
But— Barroso found himself under public speculation after online campaigns spurred in response to him joining “one of the worst banks in the 2008 economic crisis”.
The inquiry O’Reilly opened today revolves around how the European Commission dealt with a letter from EU staff concerning Mr Barroso’s position with Goldman Sachs.
O’Reilly asked the Commission to reply to the letter from EU staff and explain whether it took a stance on the Barroso appointment to the Goldman Sachs.
“I would be grateful if the Commission would facilitate an inspection by my office of any file held by the Commission relating to the AHEC opinion on the case of the former Commission President,” O’Reilly wrote in her letter to Juncker.
“I believe it would be helpful also for my representatives to meet with relevant Commission officials to discuss issues arising,” she added.
In her letter, O’Reilly requested a reply no later than 31 March 2017.
“In our view, the Commission should issue a formal warning to the former President Barroso to establish his failure to respect his duty to act with integrity and discretion, and to call upon him to resign from his current position at Goldman Sachs,” Alberto Alemanno, Jean Monnet Professor of EU Law at HEC Paris, stated.
Alemanno added that Goldman Sachs is set to gain undue advantage in any negotiations with European institution and officials, which he says puts the interests of the EU and its citizens in jeopardy.
“Allowing this situation to continue will put all EU officials, and especially the high-ranking employees of the Commission under enormous pressure not only when they have to deal with their former boss directly, but also when they have to deal with an undertaking which has him on its payroll,” Alemanno added.
“The negligence of the EU Commission in handling the Barroso file confirms its inherent and historical unease in handling with popular sovereignty. More than 200,000 signatures were collected asking the EU Commission to act. Yet it did not even succeed to adopt a formal decision on such a legitimate request.”
Margaritis Schinas, Chief Spokesperson of the European Commission, said the Commission will be providing O’Reilly with answers at the appropriate time.