Brussels, 14 September 2016
SUBJECT: Barroso Case, your reply of 9 September to the European Ombudsman
We thank you for your reply of 9 September to the European Mediator.
Your letter requests confirmation from Mr Barroso of the terms and conditions of his contract with Goldman Sachs in order to submit his case to the ad hoc Ethics Committee.
However, it is highly regrettable that your letter should come long after Mr Barroso agreed to being hired by Goldman Sachs.
We can regret that you only reacted on this issue after a petition was filled (a petition: (« Not in our name »), which was initiated by a group of colleagues and is now exceeding 140,000 signatures). But you also acted after the outraged reactions of the entire European press, as well as the fiercer pronouncements of the highest political authorities of the Member States (we will limit ourselves and just recall the reaction of the President of the French Republic who called Mr Barroso’s conduct « immoral »…).
For weeks, we sadly had to realise that the attitude of the Commission seemed to target a trivialisation of the case, hoping that the media-political crisis would fade away over summer break.
However, such attitude actually got the exact opposite effect, and caused increasingly violent reactions that led to believe that our institution was fully endorsing the actions of its former President.
On the contrary, a clear firewall between the actions, more than questionable and politically irresponsible of Mr. Barroso, and the Commission’s position should have been set.
It was especially necessary on the political front, without hiding behind the sometimes acrobatic “juridisms” that neither your staff nor the outside world has been willing to understand and accept.
It is now indisputable that the political repercussions of this case have already created significant damage to the image and credibility of our institution, at a critical time for our future.
In this respect, we once again had to sadly and regretfully acknowledge the guarantees you gave in your answer to the European Ombudsman, according to which, Mr Barroso would be treated by the services without favouritism and like any other lobbyist, within the frame of his new missions.
Given the conception we have of the role of our institution and the pride we feel when serving it, it is inconceivable to us that a former President of the Commission, after the end of its mandate, could actually become, act and be treated as any average lobbyist.
And despite your guarantees, neither your staff, nor the outside world will be reassured by such commitments.
As to the fact that, as you mention in your response to the European Ombudsman, the rules on conflicts of interest, that apply to former presidents and commissioners who ended their mandate, are already very restrictive and meet the highest international standards, may we please kindly remind you that these rules are less constraining than those applying to the staff members of our own institution.
In this regard, we share the disappointment of the European Ombudsman about the fact that the main issues she raised in her letter on the reform of the code of conduct, including the introduction of sanctions, remained unanswered and are still pending.
We thus welcome the position taken by the European Ombudsman who wishes to receive a comprehensive answer on this, when the Commission will send her a reply with its decision out the investigation it conducted on how the Barroso Commission had dealt with the resumption of a professional activity by a former commissioner. As a matter of fact, the investigation showed that the Barroso Commission had breached its obligations on the prevention of conflicts of interest of the former Commissioner. The European Ombudsman had, among others, already invited our institution to adapt the rules to make them clearer and binding.
To conclude: as far as we are concerned, any judgment on the Barroso case and the measures to be taken immediately have been perfectly summarized in the conclusion of the article “Barroso, the anti-Europeanist” published on 16 July in the newspaper “Le Monde” (“The Commission must condemn this appointment and change its rules: lifetime ban for former members to “go peacefully working” in a field they once used to regulate. This is about the image of the EU, or at least, about what is left of it. “
As you mentioned during your term of office, you are chairing the “last chance Commission”, because we observe with concern and sadness that the gap between the peoples of Europe and their public opinion on the one hand, and the political action, very often incomprehensible, that we take in Europe, on the other hand, keeps growing. Citizens actually moved away from Europe, and they did because Europe moved away from citizens. Significant efforts will be required to close the huge gap between Europe and those who inhabit it.
We fully share your comments and wish for our institution, stimulated by you, to be able to demonstrate the determination and ability of reaction and action that missed hitherto and that your staff and the outside world have been asking you, about the ongoing management of Barroso Case.