'Tighten rules or live to regret it': Brussels told to act after Barroso controversy

'Tighten rules or live to regret it': Brussels told to act after Barroso controversy
By Chris Harris
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Stricter rules and independent regulation should be introduced to avoid senior EU staff becoming too close to big business, it’s been claimed.


Stricter rules and independent regulation should be introduced to avoid senior EU staff becoming too close to big business, it’s been claimed.

Campaigners have ramped up their calls for change after former European Commission president José Manuel Barroso was criticised for taking up an advisory role with US bank Goldman Sachs.

It’s the latest case in Brussels’ long-running ‘revolving doors’ saga, where senior EU staff move into the private sector and vice-versa.

Critics say it means former EU employees can tell business how to lobby Brussels decision-makers to get the legislative changes most beneficial to them.

But the European Commission says rules governing its staff are tighter than in many EU member states, where some former government officials are able to join the private sector immediately after leaving their posts.

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Barroso controversy

European Commissioners are governed by a code of conduct, which prevents them from taking up a post in the private sector within 18 months of leaving, unless it is approved by the EC’s ethics committee.

However, after 18 months, they are able to move freely.

Barroso left the European Commission on October 31, 2014, meaning he would have had to inform his former employers of any post in the private sector up until May 1, 2016. His appointment as an advisor to Goldman Sachs was announced around two months after this deadline, on July 8.

Five examples of the ‘revolving door’

NamePosition at European CommissionEmployer(s) post-Commission Jose Manuel Barroso President Goldman Sachs, European Business Summit, Bilderberg Conferences Neelie Kroes Commissioner for Digital Agenda Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Salesforce, Uber Viviane Reding Commissioner for Justice Bertelsmann Foundation Maria Damanaki Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries The Nature Conservancy Karel De Gucht Commissioner for Trade Proximus, Merit Capital NV

Source: Corporate Europe Observatory

‘Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas’

Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) says there should be independent regulation of rules governing commissioners.

The NGO also wants the current 18-month limit to be extended to five years for commission presidents, and three years for commissioners.

Vicky Cann, a campaigner at CEO, told Euronews: “Turkey’s don’t vote for Christmas. We already saw one of the first reactions from Jean-Claude Juncker’s spokesperson to the Barroso case was to say that there won’t be any revision to the code of conduct for commissioners, it is those commissioners themselves that need to agree the rules that govern them and there’s a fundamental problem there and we have demanded there should really be independent decision-making in this area.”

CEO’s call echoes comments by the EU’s watchdog, the European Ombudsmen, who has also called for reform.

Emily O’Reilly said Juncker’s Commission should revise the code of conduct rules and introduce sanctions for anyone stepping out of line.

She said: “It is worth noting that the code of conduct was drawn up by the commission. It would now seem appropriate that the code be re-assessed in light of recent events.”

What impact is Brexit going to have?

The Barroso appointment prompted a strong response from France’s Europe minister, Harlem Desir.

He told the French parliament: “It’s a mistake on the part of Mr Barroso and the worst disservice that a former Commission president could do to the European project at a moment in history when it needs to be supported and strengthened.”


Desir was thought to be referring to Britain’s referendum on June 23, which saw the country vote to leave the EU.

CEO’s Cann said she hoped fear of the Brexit contagion spreading to other EU countries would prompt the commission to act.

Addressing the question of whether the revolving door controversies are fueling Euroscepticism, she added: “I think it does contribute to that sense of what is the EU about and what decisions are being made.

“Are they being made in the interests of me and my family and my community or are they being made in more self-interested reasons and I think it’s understandable there is such an uproar about this Barroso move.

“If the commission continues to close their ears to the sentiment around them, I think they will regret it.”


Is the revolving door syndrome really so bad?

Those defending the lobbying industry will say Barroso has not broken any rules, although there have been suggestions he has not acted in spirit of Treaty Article 245 which says commission staff ‘both during and after their term of office’ should ‘behave with integrity and discretion as regards the acceptance, after they have ceased to hold office, of certain appointments or benefits’.

The European Commission says its rules are stronger than those of national governments and other international organisations.

A spokesman told Euronews: “We all remember examples of former heads of government who went directly from government into lobbying or industry without any scrutiny of possible conflicts of interest. This would be impossible at the commission.

“After this 18 months cooling-off period, there is a reasonable assumption that the access to privileged information or possible influence on the commission are no longer an issue. Consequently, former college members are no longer obliged to notify the commission if they take up a new job after this cooling-off period.”

Cann said: “There’s a revolving door problem in the UK certainly and in other EU member states as well.


“I think it’s of particular concern at EU level because Brussels is the lobby capital of Europe and it’s probably the second biggest in the world after Washington. There are a huge number of lobbyists running around Brussels attempting to influence what is going on, there are a number of different ways lobbyists are actively working the system, and the revolving door is just one of them.

“Remember the Commission is initiating policy and making policy for 500 million citizens across Europe and there’s a mass interest of big corporations, big business and NGOs and others, to be in there influencing it. And the revolving door really does give you an advantage.”

Full audio interview with Vicky Cann

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