We had to wait three long weeks before Jean-Claude Juncker finally expressed his indignation. In the end the current president of the European Commission did grudgingly criticise his predecessor José Manuel Barroso for having become an advisor to the Wall Street bank Goldman Sachs. In an interview with Belgian daily Le Soir on July 30th, the Commission boss said: “I would not have joined Goldman Sachs. Incidentally, Goldman Sachs would never have asked me to. The fact that Barroso is working for a bank doesn’t worry me too much. But for that one, that causes me a problem. It’s an individual move and he respected the rules. But you have to choose your employer.”A few days earlier Juncker had responded to a journalist from public broadcaster France 2 who asked him for his opinion on the affair. “I wouldn’t have done it,” replied the former Luxembourg prime minister. It was not the strongest of condemnations. Indeed, up to now the Commission has kept on repeating that the decision by Barroso, who was president of the EU body from 2004 to 2014, was in their view perfectly legal. Rules already exist to control and, where necessary, block the revolving door syndrome – known as pantouflage in French – where top public servants walk out of their positions straight into lucrative private sector posts. But this code of conduct only covers the 18 months following the departure of the commissioner in question, known as the cooling off period. And when Barroso announced he had been recruited by Goldman Sachs he had already been out of his post for 20 months. In other words, it was technically speaking all above board. This is why Juncker told Le Soir his predecessor had “respected the rules.”
The problem is, however, that Barroso’s move has been catastrophic for the European Union’s image. It reignites speculation that political decisions made in Brussels have somehow been “hijacked” by the world of finance. Many European officials in the Belgian capital are struggling to understand why Jean-Claude Juncker did not disassociate himself more clearly from his predecessor’s toxic behaviour, particularly as from a political point of view Barroso no longer has any clout inside the Brussels ‘bubble’. The German social democrat head of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, did not even judge it necessary to speak publicly about the subject throughout the whole of July. This was in contrast to the more decisive tone set by French president François Hollande, who on July 14th described Barroso’s appointment as “morally unacceptable”.
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