Emily O’Reilly has urged European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to address widespread concerns and clarify the institution’s position on the appointment of his predecessor, José Manuel Barroso, as the non-executive chairman of Goldman Sachs.
“Barroso’s move has generated concern at a very challenging time for the EU and particularly in relation to citizen trust in its institutions. This is a significant public interest issue and must be openly and comprehensively addressed by the Commission,” said Emily O’Reilly in a letter to Juncker.
O’Reilly urged the executive to explain what measures it has taken to check whether the appointment conforms with ethics obligations in the Treaty, whether he has, or will, request an opinion of the Ad Hoc Ethical Committee and whether the Commission is considering reforming the Commissioners’ Code of Conduct.
Barroso’s new appointment drew criticism from across the political spectrum when the news was released in July.
He served as president of the European Commission for a decade until 2014 – steering it through the global financial crisis – and before that as Portugal’s prime minister, between 2002 and 2004.
Goldman Sachs was heavily involved in selling complex financial products, including subprime mortgages that contributed to the world financial crisis in 2008.
“Joée Manuel brings immense insights and experience to Goldman Sachs,including a deep understanding of Europe,” Goldman Sachs International (GSI) co-chief executives, Michael Sherwood and Richard Gnodde, said in a statement at the time.
O’Reilly also asked Juncker whether, given Mr Barroso’s statements that he will be advising on the UK’s decision to leave the EU, that the European Commission is considering issuing guidance to Chief Negotiator Barnier and to staff on how to engage with Mr Barroso should the former President request such engagement.
The Ombudsman recently asked the Commission to revise its Code of Conduct in order to fully implement the rules and provide for a range of explicit sanctions for breach of obligations by a serving or former Commissioner.
“It is not enough to say that no rules were broken without looking at the underlying spirit and intent of the relevant Treaty article and amending the Code to reflect precisely that,“ the Ombudsman said.
“Decisions on breaches of the Code cannot be made solely through a crude calculation of an arbitrary cut-off point for the notification of new positions by former Commissioners. Decisions should more properly be made on a case-by-case basis taking all elements of a particular appointment into account,” she insisted.
Others have pushed for options to prevent Barroso from taking up the job after EU civil servants have asked in an open letter to cut his pension.
“Contrary to the salvific rhetoric embraced by the Juncker Commission – and blindly echoed by most media outlet across Europe – there exist legal obligations preventing Barroso from taking up the jobs and there are avenues to actually make that happen,” said legal experts Alberto Alemanno and Benjamin Bodson in a recent op-ed for EURACTIV.
While the cooling-off period during which former Commissioners can’t “lobby nor advocate with members of the Commission and their staff for her/his business, client or employer” lasts for 18 months (and Barroso left 20 months ago), there exists a deeper, long-lasting commitment “to promote the general interest of the Union and take appropriate initiatives to that end” (article 17 (1) TEU).
This duty translates into a duty “to behave with integrity and discretion as regards the acceptance…of certain appointments and benefit” (Article 245 TFEU) and not to disclose information (Article 339 TFEU). Both duties apply to Commissioners also “after they have ceased to hold office”.
The executive is supposed to provide a response by 14 October.