(Corrects to non-executive chairman in paragraph 3, adds
dropped word he in same paragraph)
By Alastair Macdonald
STRASBOURG, Sept 13 Former European Commission
President Jose Manuel Barroso has accused his successor
Jean-Claude Juncker of "discriminatory" behaviour for opening an
ethics probe into his taking a job with U.S. bank Goldman Sachs.
In a letter to Juncker reported by the Financial Times on
Tuesday, the former Portuguese prime minister who stepped down
as the EU's chief executive two years ago, said the inquiry
launched after a public outcry at his appointment was
"inconsistent" with treatment of other former commissioners.
Goldman appointed Barroso as non-executive chairman of its
international arm in London two weeks after Britons voted for
Brexit in June and he said he would advise it on issues arising
from the negotiations for Britain to leave the European Union.
Juncker initially made clear his disapproval but said the
Commission had no power to intervene. But after the EU Ombudsman
insisted last week that there should be an inquiry, Juncker
asked the Commission's ethics panel to look into whether Barroso
breached a requirement to act with integrity.
According to excerpts of the letter published by the paper,
Barroso wrote: "It has been claimed that the mere fact of
working with Goldman Sachs raises questions of integrity.
"Whilst I respect that everyone is entitled to their own
opinion, the rules are clear and they must be respected. These
claims are baseless and wholly unmerited. They are
discriminatory against me and against Goldman Sachs.
He said he was concerned that the issue had been prejudged
and added: "Not only are these actions discriminatory but they
appear to be inconsistent with decisions taken in respect of
other former members of the Commission."
Barroso could not immediately be reached for comment.
A Commission spokeswoman confirmed the letter was received
by Juncker. He will use his annual State of the Union address to
EU lawmakers in Strasbourg on Wednesday to urge voters to renew
their trust in the Union following the British rejection of it.
EU national leaders plan to deliver a similar message when
they meet for a summit in Bratislava on Friday.
INTEGRITY AND PERCEPTION
EU officials have said that Barroso did not break a code of
conduct requiring former commissioners to seek permission before
taking jobs for up to 18 months after stepping down because
Barroso's 10-year tenure as president ended 20 months earlier.
However, the European Ombudsman, citing public outcry that
includes a petition started by EU staff, said that a broader
requirement to act with integrity, enshrined in the EU treaties,
had no time limit. Officials say each such case should be judged
on merit and that public perceptions must be taken into account.
Many ex-commissioners have taken roles with private firms,
but EU officials say the particular perception of Goldman Sachs
in European public opinion has made the move by Barroso damaging
just as Juncker is trying to revive trust in institutions.
The Brexit vote and a rise of anti-EU parties across the
continent has been partly driven, EU leaders believe, by public
perceptions that Brussels is undemocratic and run by elites in
hock to global capital. Goldman is associated by many Europeans
with the global financial crisis, which pitched euro zone states
into severe debt problems and job-destroying austerity policies.
That such a high-profile figure as the former president of
the Commission should not only work for Goldman but advise it on
how to handle a British exit which has battered confidence in
the Union has angered many senior officials in EU institutions.
Goldman Sachs says it respects all laws and the highest
ethical standards. It said in July Barroso would help the firm
advise clients on dealing with the ensuing "challenging and
uncertain economic and market environment".
The Ombudsman has asked that three-person Ad Hoc Ethical
Committee should take a view on Barroso's move within weeks. In
principle, it can recommend to the Commission that it cut the
pension and other rights of former commissioners.
(Editing by Alison Williams)