EU staff petition attacks Barroso over Goldman Sachs job

More than 75,000 people sign petition denouncing former president of European commission and calling for him to lose his EU pension

More than 75,000 people have signed an EU staff petition calling on former European commission president José Manuel Barroso to forfeit his pension for bringing the European Union into disrepute by joining Goldman Sachs.

The petition, organised by a small group of EU officials, accuses Barroso of “irresponsible” and “morally reprehensible behaviour” for joining the American investment bank. Although Barroso is not the first former ex-commissioner to join Goldman, his appointment has sparked anger among rank-and-file staff, who have highlighted the bank’s role in mis-selling sub-prime mortgages, as well as lending money to the Greek government before the country’s debt disaster exploded.

In a scathing denunciation of their former boss, the officials describe the Goldman job as “a disastrous symbol” for the EU and “a gift horse for europhobes”. “It is a further example of the irresponsible revolving-door practices, which are highly damaging to the EU institutions and, even if not illegal, morally reprehensible.”

Organisers plan to present the petition to the current leaders of the EU institutions at the end of September.

Separately a staff union, which claims 2,000 members, has written to the current European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, to criticise the appointment, which they say “can only provide further ammunition for populist and extremist europhobe propaganda”.

Georges Vlandas, president of the Union for Unity, told the Guardian that when the political future of the EU was in question, senior officials had a responsibility to set an example on ethical behaviour.

An organiser of the separate staff petition echoed this view. “We are going through a different and dangerous period in the European project and the level of concern among EU officials is quite high. Part of it is about their job, but part of it is about the [future of the] whole project,” said the official, who asked to remain anonymous.

Barroso, a Maoist as a student, who went on to become a centre-right prime minister of Portugal, started at Goldman Sachs in July to advise the bank’s clients on the Brexit fallout.

He left the commission in November 2014, after a tumultuous decade in charge, when the EU faced the storms of the eurozone debt crisis and a rising tide of euroscepticism.

Ex-European commissioners must inform the EU executive of any new position for up to 18 months after they step down. Barroso took up the post at Goldman Sachs 20 months after leaving the commission.

Organisers say it is impossible to tell how many of the signatories work for the EU institutions, as anyone can sign the petition. But it has clearly attracted many more people than the 46,000 EU civil servants who work in Brussels, Luxembourg and national capitals.

A small group of EU officials launched the petition, because they were disappointed with the muted response from the current EU hierarchy, a second organiser told the Guardian. “We had this gut feeling that what Barroso did was wrong and that it was the job of President Juncker to condemn him forcefully,” he said. “But there was a clear attempt to make this a non-issue.”

When Barroso’s appointment became known, a commission spokesperson said the former president had not broken any rules.

Juncker later told the Belgian newspaper Le Soir that he would not join Goldman Sachs, but declined to condemn his predecessor more forcefully, noting that it was an individual choice.

But the Goldman job caused outrage in France, where the Socialist government is under pressure from the far-right leader Marine Le Pen. She described Barroso’s move as “not surprising”, because “the EU serves big finance, not the people”.

France’s Europe minister, Harlem Désir, has said the “scandalous” move showed the EU’s conflict of interest rules needed to be tightened.

The EU staff believe Barroso is in breach of the EU treaties, which state that an ex-commissioner must act with “integrity and discretion” when it comes to taking positions after they leave office. Unlike the commission’s code of conduct for top officials, there is no time limit on the treaty obligation.

They want the commission or EU member states to refer the case to the European court of justice, which has the power to remove EU pensions.

A commission spokeswoman declined to comment on the petition until it was formally lodged at Brussels HQ. She said: “When it comes to avoiding potential conflicts of interest of former members of the college [of commissioners], the commission has strict rules in place – especially compared with many member states and other international organisations.”

A Goldman Sachs spokesman said Barroso would not be making any comment. “We follow strict rules set by our global regulators in the hiring of ex-governmental officials. José Manuel took the role after an 18-month restriction period following the end of his term at the European commission, a longer period than that imposed by most European institutions.”

He added: “José Manuel’s experience and advice in this time of uncertainty will be extremely valuable to our clients and their reaction to his appointment at Goldman Sachs has been very encouraging.”

The bank also defended its Greek currency swaps “as entirely legitimate debt management transactions” that were in line with EU rules.


Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

The GuardianTramp

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