Barroso’s Gold-plated Revolving Door

Original Source: Corporate Europe Observatory

Never before has a former European Commission official been criticised as much for their post-EU career as ex-Commission president Barroso since he joined infamous US investment bank Goldman Sachs earlier this summer. Despite its scandalous nature, his move did not come as a complete surprise, given previous revolving door cases involving former EU commissioners. Citizens have every reason to ask if Barroso’s move goes against the public interest: evidence already points towards a gross violation of the EU Treaty. At the very least, Barroso should be forced to choose between his new position with the banking giant and his generous EU pension.

José Manuel Barroso’s decision to become chairman of Goldman Sachs International and an adviser to the big investment bank very much fits with his stewardship of the Commission. From the beginning, his leadership followed a corporate agenda on a very wide range of issues, with its close links to the biggest businesses and banks in the EU representing a key trait of the way the European Commission operates.

Barroso’s latest spin through the revolving door breaks no rules of the Commission, because the rules for ex-commissioners are weak and only last for 18 months after leaving office. But the question is if those rules ensure the Commission lives up to EU Treaty article 245 which states that former commissioners will respect “their duty to behave with integrity and discretion as regards the acceptance, after they have ceased to hold office, of certain appointments or benefits”. We believe the Barroso case shows that they don’t. His spin through the revolving door from the helm of the Commission to the helm of Goldman Sachs is a risky business for citizens in the EU.

Invoking article 245 against Barroso

The wording in article 245 about how commissioners should act after leaving office aims at preventing these high-level politicians’ subsequent careers from damaging the reputation of the EU institutions, notably the Commission, and that they do not undermine the Commission’s work.

The article has been invoked once before, by the Council, when a former commissioner for industry, Martin Bangemann, announced he would take a job with Spanish telecommunications company Telefónica. The Council responded by opening a case against him at the European Court of Justice, arguing he was in breach of article 245 (then article 213), but in the end, it backed down.

Today, there are calls to launch a similar case against Barroso including, in recent days, by ALTER-EU and WeMove.EU. In the European Parliament, dozens of MEPs from left to right have expressed their concern. One such open letter to President Juncker calls for action against Barroso based on article 245, andargues that “Barroso’s move to Goldman Sachs, after presiding over the Commission for two terms, during which important banking regulation was enacted by EU institutions, damages the reputation of the Commission and threatens the credibility of the EU as a whole among EU citizens”.

And the Barroso case appears to contain even more risks than the Bangemann case. Goldman Sachs has on many occasions defined political aims in the field of financial regulation that are highly controversial. It is known to use dubious methods, both in the market place and when pursuing its political agenda; and it is powerful, operating a well-oiled lobby machine that helps it meet its ends. With that in mind, Barroso’s move to Goldman Sachs has the potential both to ignite scandals and to put the EU institutions in an awkward position

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