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Barroso to face ethics panel – EU-wide reaction

EC President Juncker has called for an investigation targeting former EC President Barroso, suspected of having infringed the European Union’s ethical principles and standards, by accepting a job at Goldman Sachs, advising the bank on Brexit, media widely report.

The case, Le Monde reports, was revived on 6 September, when the very active European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, sent a letter to Mr Juncker asking the EC to clarify its position on Mr Barroso’s new job, noting that his “move has generated concern at a very challenging time for the EU and particularly in relation to citizens’ trust in its institutions.” In a letter to Ms O’Reilly on 9 September, Mr Juncker said he has asked Mr Barroso for “clarifications” on his new responsibilities and on the terms of reference of his contract, adding that he would ask the advice of the Commission’s ethics committee on this new information.

In an interview with Expresso online, Emily O’ Reilly welcomes the decision of EC President Juncker to receive Mr Barroso as an “interest representative.” She stresses that her acts reflect public concern. Mr Barroso, Ms O’Reilly adds, has a wide network of connections, a deep knowledge of the European Union and he is a very important asset to the private sector; concerns are therefore understandable, Ms O’Reilly says, recalling that the ethical committee is the right institution to assess conflicts of interest regarding European Union officials.

Article 245 of the EU Treaties requires Commissioners to behave with integrity, during and after their term of office and according to European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, certain cases will not cease to be problematic simply because the mandatory 18 months have passed, Magyar Nemzet reports.

Mr Barroso’s work for Goldman Sachs, Hendrik Kafsack recalls in FAZ, is formally legitimate, since the former president of the European Commission waited 18 months to start his job for the investment bank. EU employees however reacted with fury to Mr Barroso’s move, starting a petition in which they described the Goldman appointment as morally reprehensible; they also called for it to be investigated, Libération notes.

While many European media reports are centred on facts, several comments are to be found in French media. For Le Monde, Mr Juncker’s move shows that the EC’s operation to win back the hearts of Europeans is in full swing. Well aware that the EC’s future depends on its ability to win back Europeans, Mr Juncker has finally come out of the woods, Le Monde writes, but this may not be enough to make them forget about the episode.

Libération’s Jean Quatremer is for instance puzzled by Mr Juncker’s “reluctance” to publicly condemn Mr Barroso for his recruitment by Goldman Sachs. Mr Quatremer believes that Mr Juncker’s stance is a façade and “will amount to nothing”, given Mr Juncker’s “barely polite” refusal to review the EU’s revolving door policy. Off the record, Jean Quatremer notes, Mr Juncker is visibly angry, as Mr Barroso “could have chosen any bank” but went to Goldman Sachs, “which has been a scarecrow since 2007”.

Mr Quatremer believes that Mr Juncker’s leniency can be explained by his “emotional functioning”: when the case became public, Mr Barroso’s wife was dying and Mr Juncker did not want to “make things worse,” choosing instead to be “the bad guy”.

Asked why Mr Juncker delayed so much to initiate the procedure for Mr Barroso, EC Deputy Chief Spokesperson Alexander Winterstein said, that Mr Juncker needed some time to think before launching the investigation, Katimerini reports. “The mood has changed” in Europe, La Croix’s editorialist Guillaume Goubert writes. A few years ago, the hiring of Mr Barroso would have gone unnoticed or been considered a “logical” career choice for a former public official, but today Mr Barroso’s recruitment by Goldman Sachs, a bank which “played a particularly murky role in the onset of the Greek crisis,” does not sit well with EC President Juncker.

Exemplariness is more necessary than ever under the current circumstances, an El Mundo editorial argues. According to Adevărul, the case could come before the EU Court of Justice. It quotes BBC reporting that if a breach of the ethics code is proven, the European Commission can deprive the former president of his EU pension.




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