Barroso cleared by EU ethics committee

An unprecedented ethics investigation launched in September to determine whether former European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso broke any rules by taking a job at Goldman Sachs has officially come to an end. In its ruling published on October 31, the ethics committee cleared him of any wrongdoing.

“There are not sufficient grounds to establish a violation of the duty of integrity and discretion… with regard to the acceptance by former President Barroso of the positions of non-executive chairman… and advisor in relation to [Goldman’s] business with its clients,” the Ethical Committee said.

As reported by Reuters news agency, the committee simply concluded that Barroso did not show the “considerate judgment” one would expect from someone of his stature.

The Portuguese ex-premier caused an uproar when he joined the US investment bank as an adviser for Brexit, with critics saying it further diminished public confidence in the European Union in the wake of Britain’s damaging vote to leave the bloc.

The investigation was launched by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Now, European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has announced she will weigh what steps to take.

“Given the concern that continues to be expressed about Mr Barroso’s appointment and the existing Code of Conduct, the Ombudsman will now reflect on the next steps – including a possible inquiry,” O’Reilly said in a statement.

According to Reuters, EU treaty law states that former commissioners who fail to act with integrity in the taking of appointments after leaving the EU executive may be stripped of their pension rights.

Barroso left his Commission job 20 months prior to taking the position at Goldman Sachs. This is two months past the 18-month statutory limit during which the EU executive must vet former colleagues’ jobs.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the ethics committee accepted Barroso’s reassurances that he won’t lobby on behalf of Goldman Sachs and won’t advise the bank over the UK’s negotiations on exiting the EU, which will include agreements on the UK-based banking sector and its access to the EU single market.

“However, being engaged as adviser in relation to the firm’s business with its clients, as stated by Mr. Barroso … it might not be excluded that future advice on these matters might touch upon issues related to Brexit,” the ethics panel said.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the European Commission, Margaritis Schinas, said Barroso will continue to be treated as a lobbyist whenever visiting his former workplace. This means his name is recorded and minutes are taken of his meetings with EU officials.